Newly added prints

A few years ago I came across a lot of around 100 prints from Edward Donovan’s Natural History of British Birds; or, a Selection of the most Rare, Beautiful, and Interesting Birds which inhabit this country. Published in 10 volumes in London from 1794 to 1819, the work includes a total of 244 hand-colored engraved plates of mostly European birds (and perhaps some that got in there by mistake). I am now offering these beautiful and colorful prints for the first time.

Female Goosander or Dun Diver by Edward Donovan

Female Goosander or Dun Diver by Edward Donovan

Donovan was an Irish-born naturalist and collector who started his own museum in London and published several illustrated works describing and depicting birds, fish, insects, and plants from around the globe. He apparently accomplished this with minimal travel, relying heavily on the specimens collected by other naturalists and explorers.

Smew by Edward Donovan

Smew by Edward Donovan

The prints are entirely Donovan’s work. According to Wikipedia, Donovan made his own copper plates, personally undertaking  “all steps of the illustration process for his books, the drawing, the etching and engraving and the handcolouring….[T]he fineness of his engraving and etching is apparent giving his illustrations the appearance of being watercolours.”

Donovan, Crested Grebe

Crested Grebe by Edward Donovan

The prints are colorful with some having the quality of caricature,  the birds just a bit exaggerated and perhaps even a bit anthropomorphic. The  Crested Grebe (third illustration) looks genial and jaunty in my eyes.

The prints are hand colored copperplate engravings on Whatman paper and measure around 9 x 5-1/2 inches. The illustrations are spare, mostly vignetted birds or birds set into a simple landscape background. To see the complete selection, please visit the Budget Prints page.

Although Donovan initially had success with his publications, he eventually experienced a serious reversal of fortune. His museum was forced to close in 1817 and he was forced to auction off his natural history collection in 1818. He continued to work and publish, railing about the unscrupulous dealings of booksellers and publishers with whom he was forced to work.  He died in 1837 having fully depleted the fortunes of his family.

Spectacular failure was not unknown among other publishers of natural history works. Donovan’s story is somewhat similar to that of Dr. Robert Thornton, the passionate publisher behind the great English botanical work Temple of Flora. Closer to home — much closer, since home in this case was Minniesland — John Woodhouse Audubon put the last nail in the coffin of Audubon family finances with his attempt to reissue his father’s Birds of America with chromolithographs by Julius Bien.

Audubon Bien Edition print of the Night Heron (Black-crowned Night Heron)

This unfortunate event did result in some wonderful prints, and I’ve got six new ones on the site including some classic Audubon images such as the Mallard Ducks, the Night Heron (shown above), and the Purple Grackle.  You can see them and the other new Audubon prints on the Bien page.

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