Mark Catesby, Vol. 2, Pl. 70, The Water Frog, hand-colored engraving, 1754

$2,450 this week only (list price $3,200). Offer expires 04-9-2018

Laura Oppenheimer

Mark Catesby, Vol. 2, Pl. 70, The Water Frog, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, 1754, hand-colored engraving

Acquire a rare original Catesby engraving, Pl. 70 The Water Frogfrom Volume 2 of The Natural History, available at a special price this week only. 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 depicted a water frog (current name, southern leopard frog, Lithobates sphenocephalus) beside a Sarracena plant, currently known as the purple pitcherplant, Sarracenia purpureae. Catesby depicted the water frog with the pitcherplant because he determined a unique association between the water frog's insect prey and the leaves of this plant, which "always retain some Water, and seem to serve as an Asylum or secure Retreat for numerous Insects from Frogs and other Animals, which feed on them," as described in his text for this plate below.

Rana Aquatica: The Water Frog.

These Frogs are of various Sizes, tho' commonly about the Bigness of the Figure Their Limbs are very long; the Upper-part of the Head, Body, and Limbs dusky Green, spotted with Black: From the Eyes to the Rump extends two yellow Lines; two white Lines also reach from each Eye to the Nose The Eyes are large, black, and circled with Yellow Irides. These are not seen on dry Land, they frequent Rivulets and Ditches of Water, and will leap at once five or six Yards.

Sarracena, foliis brevioribus latioribus Sarracena Canadensis, foliis cavis & auritis.

The Leaves of this, like the preceedent, spring from a fiberous Root, to the Height of six or eight Inches, they are likewise hollow, swelling and more protuberant than the former, and differently shaped, as in the Figure; they are of a yellow green Colour, striped and veined with Purple. The Flowers of this Plant rise considerably higher than the Leaves, and are of a purple Colour, except which the Flowers and Seed Vessels of this and the preceedent are formed alike. The Hollow of these Leaves, as well as of the other Kind, always retain some Water, and seem to serve as an Asylum or secure Retreat for numerous Insects from Frogs and other Animals, which feed on them.

These Plants grow usually in the same Places with the foregoing.

This rare hand-colored engraving is in perfect condition with pristine original color; 20.25 x14.25 inches.

$2,450 this week only (list price $3,200). Offer expires 4-9-2018.

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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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