Bird prints by George Edwards, one of the foremost naturalists of the Age of Enlightenment, from one of the most important and comprehensive of all English 18th century natural history works. The prints from these series depict a broad spectrum of birds, including species native to Great Britain and Europe, as well as exotic tropical birds such as parrots, cockatoos, macaws and toucans. Each is rendered in a scientific manner, distinctly 18th century in conception and style, generally with a tree branch, or the ground or water from the bird’s habitat. Some of the prints incorporate other animals, such as fluttering butterflies, insects, reptiles or mammals. Though Edwards was primarily an ornithologist, he also depicted other animals (by themselves without a bird), including reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals. The most notable of his mammal studies are monkeys and lemurs. Edwards’ natural history prints were issued in two works, now generally considered a unified one. Plates 1 to 210, birds and animals, were published in A Natural History of Uncommon Birds (1743-1751). Plates 211 to 362, which added more birds and animals, were published in Gleanings of Natural History (1758-1764).
George Edwards was born in Essex, England. He studied art in Holland, but found his true vocation in 1718, when he traveled to Norway and studied the birds that lived on the rocks and in precipices. With the materials he had collected, he applied himself to the study of natural history, making colored drawings of birds and animals, and continued his studies in Holland. Edwards also mastered etching with the assistance of the leading 18th Century British natural history artist Mark Catesby (1683-1749). Edwards made considerable contributions to the study of birds, and held numerous positions as a scholar and scientist. Indeed, he is generally considered the father of modern British ornithology. In 1733, he was appointed as Librarian at the Royal College of Physicians. Edwards also served as secretary to Sir Hans Sloane, who had a private museum and was president of the college and of the Royal Society. Edwards was honored with the Gold Medal of the Royal Society and elected a Fellow. His descriptions and pictures of birds provided reference material for the renowned Swedish biologist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), who gave scientific names to 350 bird species described by Edwards.
Edwards is best known for his two major publications: A Natural History of Uncommon Birds (1743-1751), followed by its continuation work Gleanings of Natural History (1758-1764), collectively having 362 prints of birds and animals in natural settings. In the late 18th century, editions of Edwards’ works also appeared in French, German and Dutch. These works were both reissued as late as 1805-06. Another work with an engraved portrait of Edwards, Memoirs of the Life and Works of George Edwards, was published in 1776.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Some with minor faint scattered occasional soiling, foxing, offsetting.
Anker, Jean. Bird Books and Bird Art. 1938. New York: Martino, 1990. pp. 124-26.
Lisney, Arthur A. A Bibliography of British Lepidoptera 1608-1799. London: Chiswich Press, 1960. pp. pp.128-44 (butterflies shown in Edwards bird prints).
Mullens, W.H. and H. Kirke Swann. Bibliography of British Ornithology from the Earliest Times to the End of 1912. Facsimile of 1917 ed. Hitchin: Wheldon & Wesley, 1986. p.195.
Nissen, Claus. Die Illustrierten Vogelbucher: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1976. 286-88.
Pasquier, Roger F. and Farrand, John Jr. Masterpieces of Bird Art: 700 Years of Ornithological Illustration. New York: Abbeville Press, 1991. pp. 62-67.
Redgrave, Samuel. A Dictionary of Artists of the English School : Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Engravers and Ornamentists. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1874. p. 134.
Sitwell, Sacheverell. Fine Bird Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. p.93.
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. pp. 192-98.