Mark Catesby, Pl. 51 The Purple Martin, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, 1754, hand-colored engraving
Acquire a superb original Catesby engraving at a special price, Pl. 51 The Purple Martin, Progne subis from The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and The Bahama Islands, Volume I. The first illustrated work of American flora and fauna to depict the entire spectrum of life forms, Catesby’s Natural History stands today as a monument in American science and natural history art.
This rare hand-colored engraving is in perfect condition with pristine original color; 14.25 x 20.25 inches.
$1,950 this week only (list price $2,800). Offer expires 12-4-17.
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.
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