This beautiful publication presents a facsimile of a sketchbook by the Dutch artist and illustrator Peter Vos (1935-2010), along with a volume of introductory essays. The title derives from the sketchbook's detailed drawings of 333 birds.
From time immemorial people have been fascinated by birds and have created images of their winged companions. The artist Peter Vos was one of them. He kept bird diaries in which he noted down the birds he came across and captured them in pen and ink and watercolour. He took pleasure in entrusting all elements of a bird to paper – their characteristics, but mostly their characters. Hunched down or in full stretch, in the water and on land, on their behinds, their necks turned ninety or a hundred and eighty degrees, foreshortened or in three-quarter view, preening their plumage and their wings poised for flight: Peter Vos often depicted his birds several times on one sheet so that you really get to know them.
333 birds was a project, a task Vos set himself: fill an empty book with 333 birds drawn as beautifully as possible. He completed it over a period of eighteen months – from June 1980 to December 1981. He began by going to zoos to sketch the birds. Days later the sketches were worked out in the book. With the meticulous layout and the Latin names, Vos was referencing the field guides and the nineteenth-century books of plates. But he, unlike the creators of those books, was trying to draw the individual bird not the species. Crooked feathers are not straightened, an odd pose uncorrected and the blind eye simply drawn. Peter Vos's drawings are records of his encounters with individual birds. We should see 333 birds as an expression of curiosity for his companions. He loved those winged friends he presents to us in a long line in all their glory and individualities – true to nature and with an understanding of their characters, honestly, as befits friends.
Jan Piet Filedt Kok is former Head of Collections, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Ger Luijten is director, Fondation Custodia, Paris. Siegfried Woldhek is a draughtsman and former director of Vogelbescherming Nederland (Bird Protection Netherlands).