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Bird, Art, American, Catesby, Blue Heron, Antique Print, London, 18th Century (Sold)

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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); second edition (London, 1751-55); third edition (1771-75)
Hand-colored etching on laid paper
Artist’s monogram in the matrix lower left
Watermarked “I. VILLEDARY”
14 x 10.125 inches platemark
20.75 x 14.5 inches, sheet

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 is printed on imperial folio sized hand-laid paper bearing a watermark I. Villedary. This identifies the paper has having been produced by the French papermaker Jean Villedary who worked in the Netherlands in the 18th Century producing paper that was used in many Dutch and English works. Insofar as the print is on Villedary laid paper, it is presumed to be an early printing, issued in the first or quite possibly second edition, though conceivably it could have been an earlier printing issued with the third edition. The different editions of Catesby’s work and the Villedary watermark thereon, are discussed at length below.

Production description continues below.


The University of Wisconsin has placed scans of Catesby’s plates and the related texts online and text transcriptions that were originally produced for a project of the University of Virginia are also online (see References 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.

Catesby’s work was 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 first edition of Catesby’s work contained 220 fine hand-colored, folio size plates after his natural history paintings, which he etched, and often printed and colored himself, together with descriptions in English and French (London: 1731-43). The renowned natural history artist 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).  In addition, the earlier third edition was itself reissued — though still considered the third edition — circa 1815-1816.

This particular print bears the watermark “I VILLEDARY” below a countermark that appears to be”IHS.” The “I VILLEDARY” watermark is associated with the French paper marker Jean Villedary (1668-1758). According to Winterthur Museum, Villedary paper was produced in the Netherlands and “widely used in Dutch and English markets” starting in about 1668, and is identifiable with the name or initials of Villedary as watermarks. Additional different countermarks of various meaning are also sometimes present. The Villedary watermark and laid paper are often associated with the scarce Catesby first edition of which it is thought that only about 200 examples were produced. Examples of prints with the Villedary watermark from the Catesby second edition are known. Some of those prints, however, were apparently produced earlier. According to the Biodiversity website: the second edition “is identical to the first, and many copies even include leftover printed sheets from the first edition. The plates for the 2nd edition were produced using Catesby’s original copper plates, but the coloring tends to be brighter than those completed by Catesby himself.“ The third edition, 1771-1775 is often printed on wove Whatman paper. Nonetheless, it too apparently was issued with laid paper prints which  generally are  presumed to be earlier edition unissued leftovers. As indicated above, based on the foregoing, the offered example of the Catesby Blue Heron is most likely an early issue from the first or second edition.

Condition: Generally fine color and margins, recently professionally lightly cleaned and deacidified, with only minor remaining toning and wear, and a few scattered very small and pale foxing marks in lower outer margins. Slight irregularities to left margin edge where removed from volume.


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