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Edwards, George, 1694–1773
Selections from George Edwards' A natural history of uncommon birds : with additional watercolors and engravings by Eleazar Albin.
England, approximately 1746.
Physical Description:
1 volume (53 leaves, with blanks) : illustrations ; 30 cm
Rare Books and Manuscripts
QL674.E39 N38 1846+ Oversize
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
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Archives & Manuscripts
"In contrast to Eleazar Albin, who was first and foremost an artist, George Edwards (1694-1773) has been described as 'the father of British ornithology' ... Edwards engraved and etched his own plates, having been taught to do so by the first real illustrator of North American birds, Mark Catesby ... He was an acute observer and skilled at accurately describing birds new to science: a mark of this is that Linnaeus used his descriptions to name about 350 bird species ... Although his birds are more varied in posture, and more lively and rounded than those of Albin and his daughter, the style of engraving favoured by Edwards, with shading composed of many minute lines very close together, made them look as if they were clothed in fur rather than feathers."--Elphick, Jonathan. Birds: the art of ornithology (2008).
"The three volumes of [Albin's] A Natural History of Birds contained a total of 306 plates. Although a number were unsigned, all except one (signed by Albin's son Fortin) were probably the work of either Albin or his daughter Elizabeth. The drawings by both father and daughter were generally accurate and well coloured, but the poses of the birds were often stiff and lifeless, and the accompanying text was sometimes directed more at gentlemen readers than at naturalists (an example is his comments on the taste of a number of the specimens). Nevertheless, the work was the first on birds to use coloured plates and made Albin one of the first successful compilers of the genre of profusely illustrated natural history books for the non-specialist reader."--Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
On laid paper throughout.
Bound in in period Dutch floral gilt paper-covered boards, rebacked to style with speckled calf.
Provenance: H.W. Pratley of Tunbridge Wells, Kent. (sold Sotheby's London, 18 July 1988, lot 36); Viscount Strathallan, Stobhall, Perthshire.
Album of selected engravings and text (in manuscript) from George Edwards' A natural history of uncommon birds, compiled circa 1746. The 17 plates are proofs or early impressions, engraved and hand-colored by Edwards. Paired with the engravings of each bird are corresponding descriptions, in pen and black ink, neatly written in Edwards' hand, comprising 31 pages of text on 18 leaves (some leaves on one side only). Also present is an original watercolor of the Greater Cockatoo attributed to Edwards and five original watercolors by or attributed to Eleazar Albin. Two of Albin's watercolors are captioned and signed on the recto, one with a lengthy caption in Albin's hand on the verso. There are also two engraved and hand-colored plates from Albin's A natural history of birds.
Edwards' A natural history of uncommon birds was originally published in 4 volumes, from 1743 to 1751. The plates and text by Edwards in the present manuscript are from volumes 1 and 2, published in 1743 and 1747, respectively. The plates in the album that correspond to volume 1 bear no apparent difference than those issued in the published version. The plates corresponding to volume 2, however, are here printed without the addition of an engraved plate number (the number is instead recorded in manuscript). This suggests the possibility that the album was compiled shortly before publication of volume 2. The text shows more significant variation from the published version. In published form, the descriptions comprise two parts; the first records the physical qualities of each species, while the second records information about Edwards' interaction with the bird, with details such as where he acquired the specimen, the circumstances in which he drew it, or to whom he may have presented his specimen. The latter information is uniformly omitted from the present manuscript.
The watercolor of the Greater Cockatoo, attributed to Edwards, is on a larger sheet than the other plates and watercolors in the album, and is thus folded both horizontally and vertically, with a 2 x 3 inch loss in the lower right corner. Similar to the image which appears in his Natural history as plate 160, though here with one foot raised and clutching a fruit or nut and with another smaller bird of another species on the same branch and a third in flight in the background.
Of the Albin watercolors, perhaps the most intriguing is the image identified in the caption as the now extinct Carolina Parakeet (captioned "Maccaw from Carrolines"). The coloring of the bird is markedly different than the contemporary image which appeared in Catesby's Natural history of Carolina.
There are at least two extant albums similar to the present manuscript, each containing proofs colored by Edwards, as well as watercolors by Edwards and Albin. One of these is now in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg; the other appeared in the Bradley Martin sale, lot 40. It is probable that they were all compiled by Edwards during the publication of his A natural history of uncommon birds, for the benefit of special patrons and friends. Interestingly, two of the proofs here (Peacock Pheasant and the Red Legg'd Partridge) show faint penciled grid marks, suggesting that this album was prepared for a fellow bird artist. Cf. A. Stuart Mason, George Edwards: The Bedell and His Birds (Royal College of Physicians: 1992).
Subject Terms:
Albin, Eleazar, active 1713-1759.
Animal painters -- Great Britain.
Birds -- Pictorial works.
Birds in art.
Edwards, George, 1694-1773.
Ornithological illustration.
Ornithologists -- Great Britain.
Ornithology -- Pictorial works.
Engravings -- Hand-colored.
Edwards, George, 1694-1773. Natural history of uncommon birds. Selections.
Albin, Eleazar, active 1713-1759, artist.
Pratley, H. W., former owner.
IIIF Manifest:

  • The Edwards selections are as follows. As there is some variation between the titles on the plates and the titles which head the text, both are given here, with the plate title following the text title when different. Plate numbers are provided in manuscript for plates 65-102.
  • 2. The king of the vultures
  • 11. The little Indian King Fisher / small Kingfishers from East India natural size [with the date April 26, 1742, written in reverse, still readily visible in the lower right of the image, subsequently removed or quickly worn from the plate]
  • 13. The Quan or Guan, so call'd in ye West-Indies / The Brasilian Jacupema of Marggrave
  • 14. The Green-Wing'd Dove
  • 18. The Solitary Sparrow
  • 22. The Red-Belly'd Blue-Bird ... The Scarlet Locust / The blue flycatcher from Surinam
  • 24. The Blue Red Breast
  • 28. The Blue Throat Red Start
  • 32. The Long Tail'd Red Humingbird ... The Little Brown Humingbird / The greater and lesser Huming Birds from Surinam
  • 48. The Spurwinged Water Hen
  • 65. The Grey Headed Green Woodpecker
  • 67. The Peacock Pheasant from China
  • 70. The red Legg'd Partridge from Barbary
  • 75. The Triangular Spotted Pigeon
  • 76. The Brown Indian Dove
  • 101. The Summer Duck of Catesby
  • 102. The Chinese Teal.
  • The Albin watercolors comprise: 1. Unidentified, but very likely a Stock Dove
  • 2. Bohemian Chatterer. Titled on verso with a 9-line note in Albin's hand describing how he obtained the specimen
  • 3. Maccaw from Carrolines. Titled in Albin's hand in the lower margin recto and signed "Albin fecit"
  • 4. Angola Parrot. Signed, in a hand that does not resemble Albin's elsewhere in the manuscript, "Albin dillin 1746"
  • 5. Unidentified parrot, possibly a parakeet.
  • The two Albin engravings comprise plates 29 and 48, the Bengall Kingfisher and a Hen Pidgeon, from volumes 1 and 3 of his A natural history of birds (1731-1738).

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