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Prideaux John Selby (British, 1788-1867), “Tufted Pochard”

Prideaux John Selby (British, 1788-1867), “Tufted Pochard”

  • $ 85,000.00

Prideaux John Selby (British, 1788-1867)
“Tufted Pochard”
Original watercolor prepared for Plate 65 of Illustrations of British Ornithology
Watercolor, gouache, grey and brown washes on paper
Signed lower left: PJSelby
London, ca. 1820
Paper size: 11 1/4 x 17 1/2 in.

Selby’s description of the Tufted Pochard is as follows:
“This short compact bird is a regular winter visitant, and although not numerously, is very generally distributed throughout the British Islands, frequenting not only the lakes and rivers far inland, but also the sea-coasts; and in the latter case, more particularly inlets formed at the mouths of rivulets, where the sands are not only flat, but indented with pools left by the receding tide. It is generally seen in pairs, and rarely more than three or four couple associate together. It is so prompt in diving, as to be difficult to shoot on the water; and the same propensity facilitates its escape from the decoy, as, instead of rising and flying forwards when within the tunnel, it immediately, by diving, returns to the open pool. Its flesh is tender and well flavoured, and in some paits is sold in the market under the name of the Black Wigeon. Its form is typical; the bill displaying the breadth and shape of that of the Scaup, which bird it also resembles in peculiarity of figure. It is a native of the arctic regions of Europe and Asia, but does not appear to inhabit North America, the species described as such by WILSON (and quoted from him by TEMMINCK, STEPHENS, and others), being perfectly distinct and intermediate in size between this bird and the Scaup. The error was first discovered by Monsieur CHARLES BUONAPARTE, Prince of Musignano, who has given to the American species the name of Fullgula rufitorques. The Tufted Pochard breeds in high latitudes, though TEMMINCK assures us that a few occasionally remain through that season in more temperate climates; but I have never been able to discover that it breeds in this country. On continental Europe it is widely and abundantly spread during its winter migration, being found throughout Holland, France, Germany, Italy, and other southern states. The labyrinthian portion of the trachea partakes of those both of the Scaup and Red-headed Pochards ; the tympanum being very similar in shape and detail to that of the latter, whilst the orca (though smaller) very closely resembles in form that of the Scaup. The tracheal tube is of considerable and equal diameter throughout its’ length ; in which respect it differs from both of them. The food of the present species consists of water insects, vermes, Food*and mollusca, obtained by diving ; and MONTAGU mentions having found the craws of some specimens filled with the Helix pntris in the month of December, at which period these and other testaceous animals have retreated to their hybernacula beneath the mud, in the deeper parts of the water. These birds begin to leave us early in March, and by the middle of April the whole have departed for more northern latitudes. According to Dr. FLEMING, they only appear in the Orkney and Shetland Islands after stormy weather; their proper line of migration seeming to be more to the eastward.

PLATE 65. represents the Adult Male of the natural size. Head and upper part of the neck black, glossed with rich General purple. Crest the same, composed of long silky narrow decumbent feathers. Lower part of the neck and Male, breast black. Belly, abdomen, sides, and flanks pure white. Mantle and scapulars brownish-black, with very minute specks of reddish- white. Tertials glossy greenish-black. Secondaries white, tipped with greenish-black, forming a bar or speculum across the wings when closed. Quills pale hair-brown, with the outer webs and tips black. Lower part of the back, under tailcoverts, and tail, black. Bill, from the angle of the forehead to the tip, one inch and a-half in length; breadth seven -eighths of an inch ; deep bluish-grey, with a small part of the tip and the nail black. Legs and toes greyish-black, with the membranes still darker. Head and neck deep umber-brown; with a crest of the Female, same colour, about an inch long. Breast and flanks varied with umber-brown and. yellowish-brown. Belly and abdomen white, with faint undulations of pale brown. Vent and under tail-coverts barred with white and pale umber brown. Upper parts of the body blackish-brown; the tips of the feathers upon the mantle and scapulars being paler. Speculum as in the male bird. Bill and legs blackish-grey.

Young. The Young, previous to the first moult, have no appearance of the crest; and the base of the bill and region of the eyes are varied with white feathers. The upper part of the plumage is more deeply bordered with pale brown. The speculum is less distinct, and of a greyish-white. After the moult the males become much darker, lose the white feathers about the base of the bill, and display the crest, in which state the bird approaches very closely in appearance to the Anas Scandiaca of LATHAM.”


Prideaux John Selby (British, 1788-1867)

Considered by many as the English equivalent of Audubon, Prideaux John Selby created some of the most memorable bird images of the nineteenth-century. His contributions to British ornithology were rivaled only by those of John Gould. Yet, his pictures were larger and less purely scientific, exhibiting Selby’s distinctive and charming style. A sense of Selby’s enthusiasm for his subjects is nowhere more palpable than in his engaging original watercolors. Selby executed these delightful images as preparatory models for his landmark printed series, Illustrations of British Ornithology. While the artist’s engraved work is highly desirable to collectors, Selby’s original watercolors rarely become available. This selection of watercolors, moreover, comprises several of his masterpieces. The distinctive birds are depicted in profile, their forms delineated by softly modulated tones of black and gray wash. The setting, if present, is lightly but skillfully painted to not distract from the birds themselves. The skill and delicacy of Selby’s touch, his keen powers of observation, and his artistic sensitivity are conveyed here in a way they are not in his printed work. Several of the drawings are by Selby’s brother-in-law, Robert Mitford, but signed in Selby’s hand.

Born in Northumberland and educated at University College, Oxford, Selby was a landowner and squire with ample time to devote to studying the plant and animal life at his country estate, Twizell House. As a boy, he had studied the habits of local birds, drawn them, and learned how to preserve and set up specimens. Later, Selby became an active member of several British natural history societies and contributed many articles to their journals. Although Selby was interested in botany and produced a History of British Trees in 1842, he is best known for his Illustrations of British Ornithology. Selby’s work was the first attempt to create a set of life-sized illustrations of British birds, remarkable for their naturalism and the delicacy of their execution. The British Ornithology was issued in nineteen parts over thirteen years; the book consisted of 89 plates of land birds and 129 plates of water birds, engraved by William Lizars of Edinburgh, the printer who engraved the first ten plates of Audubon’s Birds of America.

With their rich detail and tonal range, these exquisite watercolors are beautiful works by one of the foremost British bird painters. Furthermore, they represent a singular opportunity to obtain a unique piece of the highest quality by this luminary artist, from an era in British ornithological art that remains unparalleled. 

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