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Natural History Art, Birds, Eastern Screech Owl, Orville Rice, Antique Watercolor, 1971


Orville Rice (1919-1986)
[Eastern Screech Owl]
American: 1971
Watercolor on paper
Signed and dated lower right: O Rice ’71
Stamped verso on frame backing: From the Personal Collection of Philip Desind
29.5 x 19.5 inches, mat window
31.25 x 21.5 inches, overall
33.5x 23.5 inches, framed
Provenance: Philip Desind, Silver Spring, Maryland

Large watercolor painting of an Eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) perched inside the hollow of a large tree in winter, by the prominent bird painter Orville Rice. The upper half of its body and one claw are visible as it stares directly at the viewer. The owl’s plumage and the textured bark of the tree are portrayed with attention to the nuances of the forms and colors. The repeating curves of the bark dominate the foreground and create an effective composition, framing the little owl. A flat snowy landscape stretches into the distance.

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The Eastern Screech Owl is a relatively common species, native to woodland habitats in the eastern part of North America. The bird portrayed in the watercolor is the red (or rufous) morph of this species, which is more commonly found in the southern part of its range, as distinguished from the gray morph.

Orville Rice was an American bird and wildlife illustrator, based in Topeka, Kansas. Rice was a self-taught artist and naturalist who made accuracy a priority in his artwork to render his subjects with realism. He worked as an architect in Topeka after receiving his degree at the University of Texas until his retirement in 1981. However, throughout his life, ornithological painting was his primary passion. During the 1940s and 1950s he created numerous covers for Texas Game and Fish, the magazine of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Indeed, the agency has continued to use his illustrations on their publications, including their 2008-2009 calendar. He also provided covers and illustrations for books and for the journal of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The Audubon Society considered him one of the top 10 bird artists in the country, and he had collegial relationships with the ornithologists and bird artists George M. Sutton and Roger Tory Peterson. Many of his drawings illustrate the Kansas Breeding Bird Atlas (University of Kansas Press, 2001). Rice exhibited his work in art museums and galleries around the U.S., as well as in exhibitions sponsored by the Audubon Society and the American Ornithologists’ Union. A number of his bird drawings and paintings are in the collections of the Texas Memorial Museum and the Cornell University Library.

This work came from the collection of Philip Desind, which the Washington Post called “a trove of top-notch 20th-century American realism.” Desind was an art dealer and proprietor of Capricorn Galleries in Bethesda, Maryland. Upon his death he left behind a collection of over 2,200 works at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, which included contemporary artists and pieces by Bellows, Gericault and Glackens.

Condition: Generally very good, with usual and expected wear and toning. Scattered chipping to frame.


“All Collections: Orville Rice.” Cornell University Library. (15 July 2014).

“Eastern Screech Owl.” Wikipedia. 2 July 2014. (15 July 2014).

Klepper, E. Dan “Art from the Heart.” Texas Parks and Wildlife. January 2007. (15 July 2014).

“Orville Rice.” 2000-2014. (15 July 2014).

O’Sullivan, Michael. “Capricorn Galleries.” Washington Post.,796834.html (17 July 2014).

“Texas Private Lands 2009 Calendar.” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. July 2008. (15 July 2014).

Additional information


20th C. Birds