Elliot Pl. 58, Napoleon's Polyplectron
Original Antique hand-colored lithograph heightened with gum arabic (1872)
23 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches
includes original supplemental text
Daniel Giraud Elliot
Monograph of the Phasianidae, or Family of Pheasants
A sumptuous collection of 79 hand-colored lithographic plates, Daniel Giraud Elliot’s Monograph of the Phasianidae, or Family of Pheasants is unrivaled in its depiction of the various Pheasant species. Its scale, detail and sheer artistic mastery delight the viewer's eye as Elliot brings to life all the members of this colorful genera hailing from around the globe including parts of Asia, Africa, and Central America. The prints were issued in six parts over the course of two years from 1870 to 1872 after which the lithography stones were destroyed, limiting the number of sets to 150.
As an “ardent sportsman as well as a naturalist,” Elliot was particularly interested in game birds and observed that there was “No group of animals more important to man than the one comprising the gallinaceous birds” (J. A. Allen, 1916; Daniel Giraud Elliot, 1897). This sentiment is evinced by Elliot's production of three books focusing specifically on gamebirds.
The Family of Pheasants is chiefly a pictorial work with lush images accompanied by ancillary text containing Elliot’s anecdotal observations about the species, its habits, habitats, and variations in appearance. The prints themselves display a masterful understanding of shape and color, and an acute eye for detail. Aided by the keen skill of wildlife illustrator Joseph Wolf, who notably contributed to Charles Darwin's and John Gould's treatises, Elliot published some of the most resplendent pheasant prints of the 19th century.
Where permitted by the 23 ¾” x 18 ⅞” sheet, the species are depicted at life-size. The birds are shown mired in their native habitat and often accompanied by members of the opposite sex and juveniles of their species in order to illustrate sexual dimorphism and plumage variability. While the black lithographed elements define the underlying structure of the image, the hand-applied color and glossy gum arabic accentuate the birds' magnificent plumage. The results are an astonishing folio of vibrant prints capturing the ostentatious feathering and dramatic deportment characteristic of the family of pheasants.
Daniel Giraud Elliot (1835-1915)
Born in 1835 to a wealthy New York family, Daniel Giraud Elliot was from an early age interested in natural history. This interest prompted him in his mature years to travel widely in order to study birds and mammals. He spent many years in Europe examining the natural history collections of major institutions and traveled extensively throughout Africa and Asia where he amassed zoological sketches, data, and specimens.
Joel Asaph Allen, the curator of birds and mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, describes the trajectory of Elliot’s career; “His primary interest for many years was ornithological, and he was the author of many folio monographs of birds, expensively illustrated with handcolored plates; during the last twenty years he devoted his time to the study of mammals, which became almost exclusively the subject of his researches” (J. A. Allen, 1916). Elliot's focus on monographs demonstrates the influence of his European travels where this format of production was pervasive and distinct from the American method of employing regional parameters as the defining framework for their natural history books. Several of his most notable published works include A Monograph of the Phasianidae or Family of Pheasants, A Monograph of the Felidae or Family of Cats, and A Monograph of the Paradiseidae or Birds of Paradise.
As a result of his independent wealth, Elliot spared no expense in the creation of his folios. Consequently, the costly productions were primarily obtained by only the most affluent individual and institutional clientele. In creating his folios, Elliot frequently employed the renowned talents of Joseph Wolf and Joseph Smith, who similarly contributed to the British naturalist John Gould’s publications including The Birds of Great Britain and The Birds of Asia. Likewise, Elliot developed connections with the Philadelphia printmaker J.T. Bowen who famously produced John James Audubon’s Octavo and Quadruped Editions. Furthermore, taxidermist John G. Bell, “whom it will be remembered accompanied Audubon in 1843 on the Upper Missouri Expedition,” preserved many of Elliot's specimens and later mounted them at the American Museum of Natural History (Frank M. Chapman 1917). Consequently, Elliot occupied a prominent position at the nexus of European and American natural history art.
In addition to his artistic works, Elliot cultivated a prolific literary career and was instrumental in developing ornithological societies and natural history institutions in America. In fact, he served as Curator of Zoology at the Field Museum in Chicago (1894), cofounded the American Ornithologists Union (1883), and contributed his personal collection of North American birds to the American Museum of Natural History in New York (1869) which substantiated the foundations of their collection.