Mark Catesby, Pl. 23 The Pigeon of Passage, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, 1754, hand-colored engraving
Acquire a rare original Catesby engraving, Pl. 23 The Pigeon of Passage, from Volume I of The Natural History, available this week only at a special price The first illustrated work of American flora and fauna to depict the entire spectrum of life forms, Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and The Bahama Islands stands as a monument in American science and natural history art. Catesby's elegant and refined composition shows the Passenger with the leaves and acorns of the Red Oak, a favorite roosting place and source of food, as described below in his text for this plate.
Palumbus Migratorius: The Pigeon of Passage.
It is about the size of our English Wood-Pigeon; the Bill black; the iris of the Eye red; the Head dusky blew; the breast and belly faint red. Above the shoulder of the Wing is a patch of feathers that shines like Gold; the wing colour'd like the head, having some few spots of black, (except that the larger feathers of it are dark brown) with some white on their exterior vanes. The Tail is very long, covered with a black Feather; under w[h]ich the rest are white; the Legs and Feet red.
Of these there come in Winter to Virginia and Carolina, from the North, incredible Numbers; insomuch that in some places where they roost (which they do on one another's Backs) they often break down the limbs of Oaks with their weight, and leave their Dung some Inches thick under the Trees they roost on. Where they light, they so effectually clear the Woods of Acorns and other Mast, that the Hogs that come after them, to the detriment of the Planters, fare very poorly. In Virginia I have seen them fly in such continued trains three days successively, that there was not the least interval in losing sight of them, but that some where or other in the Air they were to be seen continuing their flight South. In mild Winters there are few or none to be seen. A hard Winter drives them South for the greater plenty and variety of Mast, Berries, &c. which they are deprived of in the North by continual Frost and Snow.
In their passage the People of New York and Philadelphia shoot many of them as they fly, from their Balconies and Tops of Houses; and in New England there are such Numbers, that with long Poles they knock them down from their Roosts in the Night in great numbers. The only information I have had from whence they come, and their places of breeding, was from a Canada Indian, who told me he had seen them make their Nests in Rocks by the sides of Rivers and Lakes far North of the River St. Lawrence, where he said he shot them. It is remarkable that none are ever seen to return, at least this way, and what other Rout they may take is unknown.
Quercus Esculi divisura foliis amplioribus aculeatis: The Red Oak.
The Leaves of this Oak retain no certain form; but sport into various shapes more than other Oaks do. The Bark is dark colour'd, very thick and strong, and for tanning preferable to any other kind of Oak; the grain is course, the wood spongy, and not durable. They grow on high land: the Acorns vary in shape, as appears by the figures of them; they being from the ame kind of oak.
This rare hand-colored engraving is in perfect condition with pristine original color; 14.25 x 20.25 inches.
$6,500 this week only (list price $9,500). Offer expires 01-22-2018.
Born in Sudbury, England, Mark Catesby (1682–1749) traveled from England to the new world on a legendary discovery expedition a century before Audubon first published his work. The son of a prominent family, Catesby’s interest in the natural world began in childhood, when as a boy he was introduced to the renowned naturalist John Ray, who lived nearby and became an early influence. Catesby explains the forces that motivated him in the preface to volume I:
“The early Inclination I had to search after Plants, and other Productions in Nature, being much suppressed by my residing too remote from London the Center of all Science, I was deprived of all Opportunities and Examples to excite me to a stronger Pursuit after those Things to which I was naturally bent: yet my Curiosity was such, that not being content with contemplating the Products of our own Country, I soon imbibed a passionate Desire of viewing as well the Animal as Vegetable Productions in their Native Countries; which were Strangers to England. Virginia was the Place (I having Relations there) suited most with my Convenience to go to, where I arriv’d the 23d. of April 1712. I thought then so little of prosecuting a Design of the Nature of this Work, that in the Seven Years I resided in that Country, (I am ashamed to own it) I chiefly gratified my Inclination in observing and admiring the various Productions of those Countries, —- only sending from thence some dried Specimens of Plants and some of the most Specious of them in Tubs of Earth, at the Request of some curious Friends, amongst whom was Mr. Dale of Braintree in Essex, a skilful Apothecary and Botanist: to him, besides Specimens of Plants, I sent some few Observations on the Country, which he communicated to the late William Sherard, L. L. D. one of the most celebrated Botanists of this Age, who favoured me with his Friendship on my Return to England till the Year 1719; and by his Advice, (tho conscious of my own Inability) I first resolved on this Undertaking, so agreeable to my Inclination."
Catesby gained extensive knowledge of the new world on his first visit to the colony of Virginia from 1712–19. His return visit in 1722 was sponsored by William Sherard, Hans Sloane and others in the Royal Society.Landing in Charles Town (Charleston, South Carolina), for five years Catesby explored the wilderness, taking notes, collecting specimens, and making drawings that documented quadrupeds, insects, amphibians and reptiles, fishes, birds, and plants. Whenever possible, he drew his subjects from life. Again, the preface to his monumental work provides insights into his painting of natural history subjects.
“As I was not bred a Painter I hope some faults in Perspective, and other Niceties, may be more readily excused, for I humbly conceive Plants, and other Things done in a Flat, tho’ exact manner, may serve the Purpose of Natural History, better in some measure than in a more bald and Painter like Way. In designing the Plants, I always did them while fresh and just gather’d: And the Animals, particularly the Birds, I painted them while alive (except a very few) and gave them their Gestures peculiar to every kind of Bird, and where it would admit of, I have adapted the Birds to those Plants on which they fed, or have any Relation to. Fish which do not retain their Colours when out of their Element, I painted at different times, having a succession of them procur’d while the former lost their Colours: I dont pretend to have had this advantage in all, for some kinds I saw not plenty of, and of others I never saw above one or two: Reptiles will live many Months without Sustenance, so that I had no difficulty in Painting them while living.”
A naturalist-explorer and self-taught artist who executed almost every aspect of this historic work, Catesby possessed a unique combination of talents. To publish his work, he learned the complicated process of etching from the print maker Joseph Goupy. From 1731 to 1747, The Natural History was published in two volumes of five parts comprising a total of 200 plates. The Appendix, which was compiled from specimens available in England, added 20 more. The artist George Edwards revised and re-issued both volumes from 1748 to 1756, and in 1771 the publisher Benjamin White reissued the Edwards version adding Linnaean names to all Catesby’s plants and animals. All editions have the same number of plates.
Catesby also contributed to the research of Carolus Linnaeus (1707–78), who included over 70 of Catesby’s bird illustrations in his landmark work, Systema Naturae.
For further information or to purchase, please call the gallery at 312-642-5300.