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Bird, Art, American, Catesby, Blue Heron, Antique Print, First Edition, London, 1731-43


Mark Catesby (1679-1749) (artist and etcher)
The Blue Heron (Ardea caerulea) (Vol. 1, No. 76)
from The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands
London: 1731-43 (first edition)
Hand-colored etching on laid paper
Artist’s monogram in the matrix lower left
Watermarked “IHS” and “I. VILLEDARY”
20.75 x 14.5 inches, sheet

A fine and rare first edition Catesby Blue Heron.

The Blue Heron from Volume I of Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands — a formative and important series of 220 natural history prints of birds, animals, fish and plants native to the southeast United States and the Bahamas. The Blue Heron is often considered one of the top ten prints from this set in terms of composition and desirability. This particular example can be identified as belonging to the first edition because it is printed on imperial folio sized hand-laid paper bearing the IHS over I. Villedary watermark, which refers to the French papermaker Jean Villedary (1668-1758). The University of Wisconsin has placed scans of Catesby’s plates and the related texts online; text transcriptions originally produced for a project of the University of Virginia are also online (see References below).

Production description continues below.


Catesby wrote the following description of this print (bearing his original punctuation, spelling and capitalization):

Ardea Caerulea: The Blue Heron

This Bird weighs Fifteen Ounces, and in Size is somewhat less than a Crow. The Bill is Blue; but darker toward the Point. The Irides of the Eyes are Yellow. The Head and Neck are of a changeable Purple. All the Rest of the Body is Blue. The Legs and Feet are Green. From the Breast hang long narrow Feathers, as there do likewise from the Hind-part of the Head; and likewise on the Back are such like Feathers, which are a Foot in Length, and extend four Inches below the Tail, which is a little shorter than the Wings. These Birds are not numerous in Carolina; and are rarely seen but in the Spring of the Year.

Whence they come, and where they breed, is to me unknown.

Mark Catesby’s important work was the first comprehensive publication on the natural history of the New World.  Catesby trained principally as a botanist in England. Beginning in 1712, he spent seven years in Virginia, amassing collections of plant and animal specimens, which he shipped back to wealthy patrons in England. With their encouragement, he undertook a comprehensive colorplate study, returning to North America for an extended stay in 1722. He learned the art of print etching so he could control the quality of the final product. The first edition of his Natural History was published in London, in parts, from 1731 to 43. In that seminal work, his depictions of birds, which comprise 109 of the 220 illustrations, contributed to the development of scientific color-plate book ornithological illustration having several innovative qualities: the placement of many of the birds in natural environments and/or with local plant life; precise scientific naturalism; and the folio format. Other illustrations included fish, reptiles, mammals as well as botanical illustrations of native plants, including their flowers and fruit. In the 18th century and into the first half of the 19th century, Catesby’s works remained a definitive source for information about New World birds, consulted such notable persons as Audubon, Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark in the United States, and Linnaeus in Europe.

The first edition of Catesby’s work contained 220 fine hand-colored, folio size plates after his natural history paintings, many of which he etched himself, together with descriptions in English and French (London: 1731-43). George Edwards (1694-1773) revised and reissued both volumes as the second edition (London, 1751-55). The publisher Benjamin White reissued Edward’s edition, adding Linnaean names to all Catesby’s plants and animals as the third edition (1771-75).

Condition: Generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified, with only light remaining toning and wear, and one small very pale foxing mark lower left in the margin.


Amacker, Kristy. “Ardea Caerulea: The Blue Heron.” Mark Catesby’s Natural History: University of Virginia. (7 April 2020).

Pasquier, Roger F. and John Farrand, Jr. Masterpieces of Bird Art: 700 Years of Ornithological Illustration. New York: Abbeville Press, 1991. pp. 59-63.

Stewart, Doug. “Mark Catesby.” Smithsonian Magazine. August 31, 1997. (7 April 2020).

The Library of H. Bradley Martin: Magnificent Color-Plate Ornithology. New York: Sotheby’s, 1989. 65.

“The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands…” Digital Library for Decorative arts and Material Culture, University of Wisconsin. (7 April 2020).

Additional information


18th Century