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Monday, September 26, 2011

Mark Catesby (1683-1749)

 Mark Catesby (1683-1749)

Mark Catesby (1682 - 1749)
Coccothraustes Purpurea - The Purple Grosbeak
Copperplate engraving with original hand-color
Image size: approximately 13 3/4 x 10 1/4 inches
First Edition
$9,500

      One hundred years before John James Audubon left his footprint in American nature studies, Mark Catesby pioneered the field. Born in Essex, England, he first visited America in 1712. From that year till his death in 1749, he devoted his life to completing the first flora and fauna studies and illustrations of the “New World[1]. ” 

      His North American adventure began in Virginia, where he met botanists and gardeners who introduced him to the province. From there he journeyed through the Blue Ridge Mountains, Bermuda, and Jamaica. During that seven-year visit he collected specimens that he ignited European interest in colonial natural history and caught the influential eyes of Sir Hans Sloane, benefactor of the British Museum, William Sherard, chairman of Botany at Oxford, and East India Trade Company merchant Charles Dubois. He also won the attention of the Royal Society, then chaired by Sir Isaac Newton. The attention of these enthusiasts earned him the funds to return to the colonies in 1722, this time with the specific intent to record their plant and animal life[2]. For the following four years, Native Americans guided him through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia (which he titled Florida in his studies), and the Bahamas[3]. Using drawings and watercolors, Catesby labored to convey this new and bizarre world. 

      After Catesby returned in 1726, he devoted the following twenty years to documenting his studies in his publication Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Island. This masterpiece became the first book to illustrate the natural history of the American colonies. He devoted the first volume to his preferred area of study- the birds of America. In this work he chronicled 100 birds[4] , including several extinct species like the Carolina Parakeet, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and the Passenger Pigeon that today exist only in his art . Of the 220 plates involved, he produced 218 and supervised every element of production. The naturalist learned to engrave the copper plates himself[5] and oversaw the hand-coloring of the 160 copies. He personally wrote all descriptions and scientific analyses and provided the English and Latin names for each specimen[6]. Carolus Linnaeus would later employ Catesby’s naming system for thirty-eight birds in his “Systema Naturea[7] .” 

      A remarkable first in American natural history and a celebration of science in the 18th century, this publication won the admiration of many members of his field. In 1732, the Royal Society made Catesby a Fellow, exalting his work as “the most magnificent work [known] since the Art of printing has been discovered” . Later in 1768 King George III bought the three volumes of Catesby’s Natural History watercolors, which remain in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle today[8]. While at times the fame of other naturalists overshadows Mark Catesby, one must remember that if Catesby had not pioneered the field, the rest may have never followed.


Essay composed by Amelie Brown of Arader Galleries New York City.
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[1]Wright, Terry . "The Life & Works of Mark Catesby, America’s First Naturalist/Illustrator." JJ Audubon Gallery. Beth & Terry Wright, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. .

[2]Wright, Terry . "The Life & Works of Mark Catesby, America’s First Naturalist/Illustrator." JJ Audubon Gallery. Beth & Terry Wright, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. .
[3]"Catesby, Mark." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 13 Sep. 2011.

[4]"Mark Catesby." Catesby Commemorative Trust. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.
[5]"Mark Catesby." Catesby Commemorative Trust. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.
[6]"Catesby, Mark." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 13 Sep. 2011.
[7]Wright, Terry . "The Life & Works of Mark Catesby, America’s First Naturalist/Illustrator." JJ Audubon Gallery. Beth & Terry Wright, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. .

[8]Wright, Terry . "The Life & Works of Mark Catesby, America’s First Naturalist/Illustrator." JJ Audubon Gallery. Beth & Terry Wright, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. http://www.jjaudubongallery.com/Catesby%20Bio.htm.

Mark Catesby (1682-1749)
The Sea Hermitcrab
Copperplate engraving with original hand-color
Image size: approximately 13 3/4 x 10 1/4 inches
First Edition
$3,800








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