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Natural History Art, Birds, Labrador Duck, John Ruthven, Large Aquatint, 1975

$700

John A. Ruthven (b. 1924) (after)
Norma Gloria Morgan (b. 1928) (engraver)
Andersen-Lamb (printed and hand-colored)
Labrador Duck, Camptorhynchus labradorius
Wildlife Internationale, Georgetown, Ohio, 1975
Hand-colored aquatint
Signed in pencil lower right: John A. Ruthven
Edition numbered in pencil in title block lower left: 401/500
Signed in pencil by individual colorist, lower edge
23.5 x 35.25 inches, image plate mark
27.5 x 42 inches, overall
$700

A large print of a pair of Labrador ducks perch side by side on a chunk of blue-toned ice beside a fallen branch, the male, with its mostly white plumage, positioned in front of the dark-colored female. This clever compositional device makes its head stand out from the otherwise plain background. This aquatint was produced after a watercolor by ornithological artist John Ruthven. Like many of Ruthven’s bird paintings, it presents a species that has either disappeared or been threatened with extinction by human activity. Already a rare duck when European settlers arrived in North America, the Labrador duck was the first endemic North American bird species to become extinct after Columbus arrived in the Western Hemisphere. Therefore, this painting documents a species that is only known to us today from 19th-century images and museum specimens.

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Description

The Labrador duck was a coastal sea duck once found along the northeast coast of North America, from the Chesapeake to Labrador. The species disappeared sometime after 1878, and its appearance is known today through 55 specimens preserved in museum collections around the world. Reasons for its extinction are unknown, although scientists suspect that human activity played a role: while the ducks were not hunted for food, the shellfish they depended on as a food source were increasingly taken by humans in the 18th and 19th centuries, and humans may also have overharvested the ducks’ eggs.

John A. Ruthven is a wildlife artist based in his native Ohio, as well as a naturalist, author and lecturer. A major retrospective exhibition of his work at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History was titled “John A. Ruthven — In the Audubon Tradition,” an apt characterization since like John James Audubon, his paintings are the result of careful study of the bird in the field as well as from preserved bird skins. In addition, they are rendered in meticulous accurate detail, including plants from their natural habitat as part of the composition. Indeed, the offered aquatint based on Ruthven’s painting was printed on the same type of paper Audubon used for his Elephant Folio. Ruthven selected the colorists for the aquatints, who provided the additional hand coloring to match his original paintings; they each respectively signed the prints in pencil along the bottom edge.

Ruthven was drafted into the Navy right after high school and served two years during World War II. He was interested in art and was essentially self-taught, also doing some drawing and cartooning for the Navy. After his discharge he opened a commercial art studio in Cincinnati in 1946. In 1960 Ruthven won the Federal Duck Stamp competition, a major prize for a bird artist, which he characterizes as a defining moment for his career, because he was immediately approached by Abercrombie & Fitch to sell his work nationwide. From that point on he was able to devote himself to wildlife art full time. He has also produced works on other natural history subjects, such as mushrooms and other animals. He has traveled around the world on commission to paint wildlife. Ruthven’s works have been exhibited nationally and internationally at both art and natural history museums, including the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York, and the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum in Oradell, New Jersey, and are also in numerous public and corporate collections. In 2004, Ruthven was awarded the National of Medals of Arts in a ceremony at the White House.

Norma Gloria Morgan is an engraver and painter known for her printmaking and Expressionist imagery. An African-American artist, she studied at the Arts Student League with Hans Hofmann, and with the renowned printmaker Stanley W. Hayter. Her works are in the collections of major museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She has won numerous awards for her work.

Inscriptions in Title Block: Original Watercolour by John A Ruthven. 401/500. Engraved by Norma Morgan. Printed by Andersen-Lamb (Hand-coloured), New York. Published by Wildlife Internationale, Georgetown, Ohio, U.S.A. © 1975.

Condition: Generally fine overall with only minor handling. Signed by Ruthven in pencil.  Also signed by the colorist, bottom left edge.

References:

“CET Express – John Ruthven.” Cincinnati Public Media. 13 July 2006. http://www.cetconnect.org/genericPlayer.asp?id=417 (5 September 2008).

Hollister, Dean, Amy I. Furman, Mary Bruccoli and Tamara Adams, eds. Who’s Who in American Art. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1989. p. 746.

“John A. Ruthven — The 20th Century Audubon.” Ruthven.com. http://ruthven.com/about-me/ (30 August 2018).

“Labrador duck.” Wikipedia. 24 July 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labrador_duck (4 September 2018).

“Norma Gloria Morgan.” AskArt.com. 2000-2008. http://www.askart.com/AskART/artists/search/ArtistKeywords.aspx?artist=106989 (8 September 2008).