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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Offering of the Day: A Striking Ornithological Watercolor by Alexander Rider

Alexander Rider
Study for Plate 22: Condor from Charles Lucien Bonaparte’s American Ornithology (Philadelphia, 1825-1833), Volume 4

Pencil and watercolor on paper
Paper size 14 x 10 3/8 inches
Framed size 24 1/4 x 20 1/2 inches
Ca. 1830-1833
$175,000.
Provenance: Dr. Evan Morton Evans (1870-1955); Daniel Webster Evans (1907-1966).

This original watercolor was produced for Charles Lucian Bonaparte’s landmark American Ornithology, which was intended as a supplement to Alexander Wilson’s important publication on the subject of American birds. First published in parts between 1808 and 1814, Wilson's Ornithology was the first American bird book with colored plates to be printed in the United States. Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon and a well-known scientist, expanded American Ornithology while resident at his exiled uncle Joseph's estate in New Jersey during the late 1820s and early 1830s. For his illustrations, Bonaparte chose artists of considerable skill and renown, including not only the young Audubon but also Titian Ramsey Peale and Alexander Rider, a noted artist from Philadelphia whose wide-ranging talents included the painting of portraits, miniatures, and landscape paintings. Highly impressed by Rider’s outstanding skills, Bonaparte commissioned the artist to produce the vast majority of drawings for his publication and to add a number of bird species not treated in Wilson’s work, thus considerably augmenting early nineteenth-century knowledge of American ornithology.

Like so many artists of his time, Rider had immigrated to the United States from Europe, specifically Germany, in 1810. He immediately built his reputation as an artist, winning acclaim and commissions in his adopted city, and exhibiting frequently at the Pennsylvania Academy. The engaging works he produced for Bonaparte’s American Ornithology are the highlights of his distinguished career. These two charming watercolors are extremely rare instances of his original work, which rarely becomes available. They served as models for the hand-colored engravings that were included Bonaparte’s publication, and indeed the hand-written notes that identify and describe the birds have been identified as the work of Bonaparte himself, making these two works important instances of the collaboration between author and artist. The original engravings from Bonaparte’s American Ornithology are themselves quite rare, but only in Rider’s original watercolors does his full artistic mastery and sensitivity become clear, as the birds seem to come alive, with each feather meticulously delineated and finely colored. These vibrant watercolors represent a rare opportunity to acquire original works for one of the most distinguished American ornithological publications by a celebrated artist.

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