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This remarkable ornithology lithograph with hand-finished color is from the esteemed John Goulds Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds published in London between 1849 and 1887.
Family of Hummingbirds undoubtedly featured some of Goulds most desired plates. Of particular note was the use of gold and silver leaf to create the appearance of the natural iridescence of the hummingbirds feathers. The birds are also featured amidst intricately drawn fauna that accentuates the beauty of the composition.
“There is no one appreciative of the beauties of nature who will not recall… with delight the time when a live humming-bird first met his gaze. The suddenness of the apparition, even when expected, and its brief duration, are alone enough to fix the fluttering vision on the mind’s eye…. The beautiful nests of humming-birds… will be found on examination to be very solidly and tenaciously built, though the materials are generally of the slightest – cotton-wool or some vegetable down and spider’s webs” (Alfred Newton in ‘The Encyclopedia Britannica 1911, vol. 13, p.887). The Hummingbird family includes members that are the smallest birds in the world. The largest measures no more than 8 1/2 inches and the smallest 2 3/8 inches in length. They are confined to the American continent and its islands, but are wide ranging within this limitation, with over 400 different species covering an area from the fuchias of Tierra del Fuego in the south to the althaea bushes of Toronto gardens in the north.
The present image is from the work of which Gould himself was most proud. Hummingbirds remained a fascination for him throughout his professional life, as evidenced by his collection of 1500 mounted specimens, which were exhibited in the Royal Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park, London, in 1851 as part of the festivities surrounding the Great Exhibition. The exhibit proved a great success, with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert numbering among the 75,000 visitors.
John Gould created nearly 3000 hand-colored plates of animals in his extensive career. Gould gained much of his knowledge by observation and experience and contributed greatly to scientific knowledge at the time. Gould is believed to have done the original sketches for all of the plates. He utilized many talented artists to help create the finished lithograph including his wife Elizabeth Coxen Gould, Edward Lear, Joseph Wolf, William Hart, and H. C. Richter. Even at the time of publication, Goulds plates were very expensive and only sold to a small set of subscribers. Due to the limited subscriber list, the plates remain rare and of high value for collectors today.