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Bird, Art, British, Gould, Crane, Edward Lear, Birds of Europe, Antique Print, London, 1830s


Edward Lear (1832-37) (after)
John Gould (1804-1881) (editor)
Charles Joseph Hullmandel (1789-1850) (lithograph printer)
Common Crane, Grus cinerea (Bechst), Plate 11, Vol. 5
from The Birds of Europe
London: 1832-37
Hand-colored lithograph
Signed E. Lear in matrix, lower right
14.5 x 21.5 inches, overall

Natural history study of the Common Crane, also known as the Eurasian Crane by the renowned British artist, Edward Lear.  It is one of two crane species commonly found in Europe; it breeds in Eurasia and winters in North Africa, India and Southeast Asia. It is currently classified under the Latin name Grus grus. British artist Edward Lear was only 20 years old when John Gould hired him to create plates for his second publication, The Birds of Europe. Lear was already making a name for himself as a talented bird artist and an early adopter of lithography to reproduce his drawings. His characteristically expressive style, showing the birds with animated features and imbued with personality, is showcased in his portrayals of large, dramatic birds.

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Edward Lear, the youngest of 21 children of a family that fell on hard times, went to work for William Harvey as a draftsman for the Zoological Society in London at age 16. At 19, he began publishing a series of studies of parrots in the Society’s collection, Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots (London 1830-32), an ambitious project not only for such a young man, but also in that it was first color plate bird book to concentrate on a single bird family. To reproduce his work, Lear turned to the then-novel technique of lithography, recognizing the advantages of cutting out the “middleman” engraver and preserving his own artistic vision, and had his plates published by the pioneering lithographer Charles Hullmandel. Recognizing that Lear was both talented and onto something potentially profitable, the entrepreneurial John Gould launched A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1831-32), a competing publication that overshadowed Lear’s. The continuation of Lear’s Parrots also faltered due to Lear’s lack of business sense.

Gould enlisted Lear to work on The Birds of Europe with his wife, Elizabeth Gould, followed in 1833 by a commission of 10 plates for Gould’s Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans (1833-35). Gould’s biographer, Isabella Tree says, “It was Lear’s example that provided the impetus for the Gould’s first publication, and it was Lear who later transformed Gould’s static and unimaginative style into the confident and innovative work that characterized his second and all subsequent publications.” She also notes that the difference between Mrs. Gould’s depictions and Lear’s are striking, the former’s stiff and awkward by comparison. Moreover, Lear made skillful use of the expressive qualities of lithography. Towards the end of his life, however, an embittered Lear remembered the entrepreneurial Gould as a harsh taskmaster who denied him credit for his contributions to the success of Gould’s publishing ventures, even signing his own name to Lear’s drawings. Lear also drew for other natural history publications, notably Selby and Jardine’s Illustrations of British Ornithology and Jardine’s Naturalist’s Library. His versatility as an artist is demonstrated by his enduring contribution to children’s literature with his “nonsense” limericks, ABCs, stories, and poems such as The Owl and the Pussycat, often illustrated with his own humorous drawings.

John Gould (1804-1881) is considered the Audubon of Great Britain for his prolific and exhaustive production of color plates of birds in the 19th century. The son of a gardener at Windsor Castle, Gould was a self-taught artist and naturalist. He was hired as Curator and Preserver of Birds at the Zoological Society of London in 1828. Shortly thereafter, he married Elizabeth Coxen Gould (1803-1840), who became his collaborator and traveled and worked with him until her death. Together the Goulds began their new career as ornithological illustrators, publishing their first collection of prints in 1830-31 A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains, based upon a collection of bird skins from the Himalayas, which Gould had acquired.

Gould chose the medium of lithography, influenced by the work of Edward Lear (1812-1888), who had just recognized the advantages of this printing technique in cutting out the “middleman” engraver and preserving his own artistic vision. Gould enlisted Lear to work on The Birds of Europe with his wife, Elizabeth Gould, followed in 1833 by a commission of 10 plates for Gould’s A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans. Gould’s biographer, Isabella Tree notes the importance of Lear: “It was Lear’s example that provided the impetus for the Gould’s first publication, and it was Lear who later transformed Gould’s static and unimaginative style into the confident and innovative work that characterized his second and all subsequent publications.”

John Gould generally made the original sketches, and Elizabeth transferred them to lithographic stones and meticulously hand-colored them, though, in addition to Lear and Elizabeth, there were numerous other print artists involved in these works, such as Joseph Wolf (1820-99), William Matthew Hart (1830-1908) and Henry Constantine Richter (1821-1902), as well as numerous unnamed colorists. Gould traveled to Asia, Australia and the East Indies to see and collect birds of the world. He developed a collection of 1,500 mounted specimens, many of which were used as models for his lithographs. The specimens were exhibited in 1851 at the Royal Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park, London, as part of the festivities surrounding the Great Exhibition.

Gould’s prolific publishing output was 49 large folio volumes, in 15 sets, containing more than 3,000 plates, though some were published posthumously under the supervision of his later collaborator Richard Bowdler Sharp. The bird prints were issued in unbound parts to subscribers only, and due to the labor-intensive nature of their production, only wealthy individuals and institutions could afford them. Gould also published numerous scientific papers, many describing new species, and his contributions to the study of ornithology were recognized by being elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1843.

Gould’s monographs of hummingbirds, toucans, and birds of the Himalayas, Europe, Great Britain, New Guinea, and Australia are among his most popular works. His hummingbirds are particularly decorative, with the inclusion of exotic flowers of the birds’ habitats and the highlighting of the birds’ iridescent plumage with gold leaf under the hand color, and heightened with gum Arabic. The striking esthetic qualities of his toucans are likewise emphasized, each large bird with bright orange or green plumage, and a prominent colorful beak.

Charles Joseph Hullmandel was an English draftsman, lithographer and printer who printed the lithograph prints for many of John Gould’s works. He worked mainly in London, although he had trained in Paris as a painter and travelled extensively in Europe making topographical drawings. In 1817, on a visit to Munich, he was introduced to lithography by the pioneering lithographer Alois Senefelder. The following year he produced Twenty-four Views of Italy, a set of images he had drawn and lithographed. Dissatisfied with the way his work had been printed, Hullmandel set up his own lithographic press. The quality of work he published by himself and other artists such as Giovanni Belzoni helped popularize the topographical lithograph among British artists.

Condition: Generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified, with light remaining overall toning, handling, wear.


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“John Gould.” Australian Museum. 2004. (18 November 2010).

Nissen, Claus. Die Illustrierten Vogelbucher: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1976.

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Sitwell, Sacheverell. Fine Bird Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.

Tree, Isabella. The Ruling Passion of John Gould. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991. pp. 36-50, 161-162, 239-240.

Wood, Casey A. (ed.) An Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Zoology Based Chiefly on the Titles in the Blacker Library of Zoology, the Emma Shearer Wood Library of Ornithology, the Bibliotheca Osleriana, and Other Libraries of McGill University, Montreal. London: Humphry Milford, Oxford University Press, 1931.

Zimmer, John Todd. Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library. Zoological Series, Publ. 239-240, Vol. 16. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1926.

Additional information


19th Century