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Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Original Watercolour of One of John Gould's “Hidden Treasures”

GOULD, John (1804-1881).   Lophornis adorabilis, Salvin or Salvin's Coquette, from “A Monograph of the Trochilidae or family of Hummingbirds… Completed after the author's death… Supplement”, plate 35. London: Henry Sotheran & Co., 1887.


Single sheet (21 5/8 x 14 4/8 inches). EXQUISITELY FINE ORIGINAL WATERCOLOUR AND GRAPHITE on paper, inscribed by Gould in his elderly hand “Lophornis adorabilis, Salvin. Flower vol, 3 – 4296 Echinocactus williamsii”, and in a later hand, probably for publication “Lophornis adorabilis H.B. Supplement Plate 36” (some insignificant browning at edges).

"bring to light the hidden treasures of the great primeval forests of the New World" (Gould "Preface")

An extremely beautiful original watercolour of one of Gould’s most treasured birds. Showing three Hummingbirds, one in flight, feeding from the pink and delicate flower of the small cactus Echinocactus williamsii, otherwise known as Lophophora williamsii. A small brilliantly blue butterfly, similar to the chalkhill blue, rests lightly on the chalky ground, all against a finely painted blue and cream sky. The image appears in reverse from the published plate, confirming that it was the original from which Richter engraved his stone.

Gould maintained an obsessive fascination for Hummingbirds: "These wonderful works of creation… my thoughts are often directed to them in the day, and my night dreams have not infrequently carried me to their native forests in the distant country of America" (Gould "Preface"). During his lifetime he identified more than 400 species of Hummingbird, Linneaus, by comparison, having only identified 22. Gould famously exhibited his personal collection (from which the plates in this monograph are drawn) at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Zoological Gardens in Regents Park, and one of his revolving displays of these tiny birds with their "jewel-like glittering hues" (Gould "Preface" to “A Monograph...”) could be seen recently at the Yale Center for British Art as part of their exhibition "Endless Forms": Charles Darwin and the Natural Sciences. As a result Gould's "masterpiece [is] an incomparable catalogue and compendium of beauties" ("Fine Bird Books").

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