Click main image below to view enlargements and captions.

Bird, Art, Basil Ede, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Watercolor, c. 1970s


Basil Ede (1931-2016)
Red-Breasted Nutchatches
British: c. 1970s
Watercolor and gouache on grey paper, mounted on offwhite mat board as issued
Signed lower right
Titled by artist on mounting board
16 x 12.75 inches, image
21 x 15.75 inches, overall

Exquisite Watercolor of North American Red-Breasted Nuthatches.

An original watercolor and gouache painting of red-breasted nuthatches by British artist Basil Ede, one of the greatest ever 20th-century ornithological artists. In this beautiful composition, two of these birds perch on a weathered dead branch against a blue sky with foliage indicated impressionistically in the background. This work demonstrates why Basil Ede is so highly regarded as a bird artist: he accomplishes the complex feat of achieving remarkable, almost photographic detail of each of the two birds — their forms, proportions and coloration, as well as the textures of beaks and feathers. The animated pose and expressive eyes of each bird are lifelike and natural, capturing their personalities as sentient creatures, within an artistic composition with similarly detailed tree branches.

The red-breasted nuthatch is a small, compact songbird with a short tail, plump compact body. It has a characteristic long, pointed bill and tin-trumpet-like call.  It is native to the United States and Canada.

Product description continues below.


Basil Ede was born in Surrey, England, and as a child became familiar with the wildlife in the surrounding countryside.  He befriended a local artist for the Zoological Society and received some informal instruction in natural history drawing.  As a 25-year-old ship’s purser, he traveled to the Far East, where he was inspired by Asian art.  Meanwhile, he had also taken up birdwatching as a hobby, and decided to bring these two avocations together. He began exhibiting in London in 1958 at the Tryon Gallery, the first specialist wildlife gallery there. By 1964, he was able to devote his full time to ornithological painting. That year, he had his first American show at the Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fine Arts in 1964 — the first ever given at that institution to a living artist — and prepared 36 plates for the popular book Birds of Town and Village, published the following year and reprinted in several subsequent editions. Kennedy Galleries in New York became his American dealer in 1966 and published a catalog of his work to accompany an exhibition in 1979 of more than 30 paintings. These included paintings commissioned by Jack W. Warner, CEO of Gulf Paper States Paper Corporation in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a series of life-size bird paintings, Wild Birds of America. This project spanned the years 1975 to 1989, and the paintings became the basis for a series of limited edition prints. Ede’s works have also been collected by Prince Philip of Great Britain and the Ulster Museum in Northern Ireland, among others, and have been featured in numerous other gallery and museum exhibitions. Ede was one of the founding members of the Society of Wildlife Artists in the United Kingdom.

Throughout his career, Basil Ede traveled the world to observe birds in their habitats, taking photographs and making sketches. He also has typically made use of museum specimens. In the introduction to the 1981 book Basil Ede’s Birds, Ede explained that he conceived of his bird portraits in terms of the personality of the species, as expressed by “the movement of the body” and “deployment of feathers.”  He painted for most of his career in watercolor and gouache, in a process that took him from rough sketches to the “painstaking and time-consuming finish,” Ede’s extraordinary abilities were summed up by Carl W. Buchheister, President Emeritus of the National Audubon Society, in the preface to Basil Ede’s Birds: 

Technical ability is, to be sure, essential for the artist, but to impart lifelike qualities and personality to one’s subjects requires the abilities of the true master.  … This can be acquired only from long hours in the field, in an intimate study of the living bird.  …  Every Ede painting gives eloquent manifestation of such knowledge and understanding. 

Ede turned to oil painting after suffering a stroke in 1989 that paralyzed his right arm. By 1992, he had trained himself to paint in detail with his left hand and exhibited his new work at London’s Tryon and Morland Gallery that year. He died in 2016.

Condition: Generally fine, watercolor on paper, mounted on hand-titled mat board, as issued, with only light overall toning, handling, wear. Board with slightly greater wear, and tape residue at the top where formerly mounted, all easily matted out.


“Basil Ede.” Wikipedia. 1 May 2022. (10 May 2022).

Dougall, Robert et al. Basil Ede’s Birds. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981.

Ede, Basil with text by W.D. Campbell. Birds of Town and Village. London: Country Life Books, 1965, 1979 ed.  pp. 85-87.

Wunderlich, Gerold M. Basil Ede: American Birds.  October 17th to November 10th, 1979.  New York: Kennedy Galleries, 1979.