In addition to John Gould and Henry Constantine Richter, the famous ornithological artist Joseph Wolf (1820-1899) contributed many of the images in this work. Wolf was a skilled artist and a dedicated field observer of birds, placing a premium on accuracy. With The Birds of Great Britain, Wolf “claimed to be the first to introduce into England a systematic study of the arrangement of plumage” (Tree, pp. 200-201). British art critic John Ruskin praised the book’s attractive and accurate depictions, and promoted the work along with those of Audubon and other naturalists in his Sheffield Museum with the goal of educating the public (Tree, p. 202).
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.
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 Artnet.com. (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. http://australianmuseum.net.au/John-Gould/ (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, 200-202, 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.