Product No. selby027

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Plates to Illustrations of British Ornithology

This magnificent, elephant folio engraving is from Prideux John Selby’s Plates to Illustrations of British Ornithology. This is considered the Bohn edition published in London in 1841 by Henry G. Bohn. The engraving is on woven, J. Whatman watermarked paper dated 1864. These exceptional engravings feature original hand-coloring done by William Lizars.

Selby was a prominent naturalist that received drawing lessons from John James Audubon and was friends with the likes of John Gould, Sir William Jardine, William Yarrell, and H. E. Strickland. He is often referred to as the British Audubon. He rendered all of the engravings with birds in their true to life size.

Christine Jackson of Sotheby’s noted besides “collecting and preserving birds, Selby had observed them in the field, making careful notes of their habitat and habits. At his leisure, he also sensitively colored drawings of them. With this accumulation of practical knowledge, specimens, and some drawings, Selby embarked in 1819 on an ambitious project to publish the most up-to-date, life-size illustrations of British birds…”

“Selby etched his drawings on copper plates and then either took or sent the plates to William Home Lizars in Edinburgh. Either Lizars or one of his workmen took a pull [proof impression] from Selby’s plate and worked on any parts necessary to bring the plate to a very fine state of completion. Selby and Sir William Jardine both purchased their copper plates and etching ground from Pontifex of London, and their letters refer to the progress made in drawing and ‘biting’ or etching their plates. If they made a mistake or accidently over-etched a plate, they relied on Lizars to correct by burnishing to lighten it…”

“The cool, classical quality of Selby’s plates belongs to an age of elegance and could never have been achieved by the Victorian John Gould. Selby’s bird figures were the most accurate delineation of British birds to that date, and the liveliest. After so many books with small, stiff bird portraits, this new atlas with life-sized figures and more relaxed drawing was a great achievement in the long history of bird illustration.” (Jackson, Bird Etchings)

Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867) was a British naturalist, landowner, magistrate, High Sheriff, and then Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland. He was friends with many leading naturalists including John James Audubon (who gave Selby and his brother-in-law Robert Mitford lessons in drawing), Sir William Jardine (one of Selby’s closest friends and a collaborator on various later works), John Gould, William Yarrell, H. E. Strickland, and more.

Provenance: Bookplate from Wessington Court was present. Wessington Court was a 19th century house built by William Henry Booth.

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