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Bird, Art, British, Gould, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Birds of Australia, Antique Print, London, 1830s-40s


John Gould (1804-1881) and Henry Constantine Richter (after)
Charles Joseph Hullmandel (1789-1850) (lithograph printer)
Platalea Flavipes (Yellow-billed Spoonbill) [Vol. 4, Plate 49]
from A Synopsis of the Birds of Australia, and the Adjacent Islands
John Gould, London: 1837-38, 1848
Hand-colored lithograph
21.5 x 14.25 inches, overall

Natural history study of the Yellow-billed Spoonbill, a large aquatic bird about 36 inches tall, common in the wetlands and marshes of southeast Australia, and also found elsewhere in the continent. It was first described and given its Latin nomenclature by John Gould, who observed the species during his expedition to Australia in 1839. The bird is shown in its habitat, standing on a rock beside a body of water, with two other spoonbills in the background on the opposite shore.

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Considered today as a foundational work of Australian ornithology, A Synopsis of the Birds of Australia, and the Adjacent Islands was issued in four parts and included 73 plates, both colored and uncolored. Gould published the first 20 plates, mostly of just the heads of birds, based on specimens sent from Australia by his wife Elizabeth’s brothers and ones that he had collected from other sources. However, he realized that many of the species were so different and unfamiliar that if he was going to fulfill his ambitions of creating a scientifically accurate work on Australian birds, he could not rely on skins and specimens brought back to England by others. For that, he would have to undertake an expedition to observe and collect specimens on site. He decided to recall the 20 plates, since he could not vouch for their accuracy, and instead offer his subscribers the first part of his new series in the future in exchange. In 1838, he and his wife, left on what became a productive two-year trip to Australia. He completed the work in 1848 (Tree, pp. 52, 64-70, 150-151).

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 that 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.

Henry Constantine Richter was an illustrator and draftsman. His father was the eminent history painter, Henry James Richter, a past president of the Associated Artists in Watercolour, and his sister was a portraitist who exhibited miniatures at the Royal Academy. Richter worked for Gould 1842 and 1849, translating Gould’s sketches into illustrations. He completed the plates for Gould’s Birds of Australia and went on to contribute some 500 folio plates to Gould’s publications. (Tree, 150-151).

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 toning, wear, handling.


Anker, Jean. Bird Books and Bird Art. 1938. New York: Martino, 1990. p. 177.

“Charles Joseph Hullmandel.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at (18 November 2010).

Gould, John. John Gould’s Hummingbirds. Secaucus, N.J.: Wellfleet, 1990.

Hyman, Susan. Edward Lear’s Birds. New York: William Morrow, 1980.

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

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

Sauer, Gordon. John Gould the Bird Man: A Chronology and Bibliography. Melbourne, Sydney, New York, London: Landsdowne Editions, 1982. 16 and 29.

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