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Good Reads  Natural History  Art

Birds of the World The Art of Elizabeth Gould

Art / Photobook
By: Andrea Hart(Author), Ann Datta(Author), Elizabeth Gould(Illustrator)
248 pages, 220 colour illustrations
Publisher: Prestel
Birds of the World
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  • Birds of the World ISBN: 9783791379876 Hardback Sep 2023 In stock
Price: £55.00
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About this book

Pages: 248

Dimensions: 343 x 241 mm

Illustrations: 220 colour illustrations

Publisher: Prestel


Artist and illustrator Elizabeth Gould is finally given the recognition she deserves in this gorgeous volume that includes hundreds of her stunning and scientifically precise illustrations of birds from nearly every continent.

For all of her short life, Elizabeth Gould's artistic career was appreciated through the lens of her husband, ornithologist John Gould, with whom she embarked on a series of ambitious projects to document and illustrate the birds of the world. Elizabeth played a crucial role in her husband's lavish publications, creating beautifully detailed and historically significant accurate illustrations of over six hundred birds – many of which were new to science. However, Elizabeth's role was not always fully credited and, following her tragic death aged only thirty-seven, her efforts and talent were nearly forgotten.

This marvellous volume offers a new and timely tribute to Elizabeth's reputation and skill. It opens with an introduction to her life and achievements that reflects the latest scholarship. Following is a geographically organized collection of full-colour plates depicting birds from nineteenth-century Europe, South and Central America, Africa, Asia, and Australia including previously unpublished original artworks. Filled with the highest quality reproductions, Birds of the World allows readers to appreciate first-hand Gould's talent for capturing the unique character of each species and the beauty of avian diversity. At the same time, Birds of the World offers a valuable reconsideration of a woman who left a lasting legacy as one of the greatest bird painters of all time.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Mrs Gould gets the recognition she deserves
    By Keith 1 Feb 2024 Written for Hardback
    Birdwatchers the world over are aware of John Gould through his outstanding publishing achievements of the 1800s. His mammoth books on the birds of Great Britain, Europe, Asia and Australia are amongst the most collectable (and expensive) items in the world’s most comprehensive libraries. However, the name of Elizabeth Gould may be unfamiliar to many. Although John Gould was a writer and illustrator, it was in fact Elizabeth who was the main artist in several of Gould’s early works, and she was also his wife, having married him in 1829 when they were both aged 24. This beautiful book reproduces more than 200 of the approximately 600 illustrations that Elizabeth created in her short life of just 37 years, and is the first publication to really put the spotlight on her art.

    It is perhaps tempting for some to think that John Gould chose not to give his wife the credit she was due, because her name was not on the title pages, but the truth is that only in recent years have illustrators been given the status they truly deserve. The Goulds were clearly a very loving couple and a formidable team. When Elizabeth died, John was left to manage a large family and find several new artists who could match Elizabeth’s skill.

    The structure of this book is to take Elizabeth’s art for each of five continents. Starting with Asia, there are 39 illustrations from A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1830–1832). Being from her early career as an artist, these sometimes lack the more realistic contours that can be seen in her later works, but they are still stunning, and were well-received by the subscribers to this work. For me, her Himalayan Monal Lophophorus impejanus is just outstanding. John and Elizabeth would often plan the image together, and based on sketches Elizabeth would then etch the final version onto stone which was then used to create lithographs – all of which would have to be hand-coloured by a team of colourists. The process was laborious, but the results were hugely impressive and on pages of imperial folio size (approximately 55 cm × 40 cm), which meant that the numerous hand-coloured plates were often large enough to show the birds at actual life-size.

    Buoyed by their success, the Goulds then attracted subscribers for a new work that was issued in many parts between 1832–1837, and this was The Birds of Europe. We are given a selection of 53 illustrations by Elizabeth, including a stunning image of a Great Auk Pinguinus impennis, which at that time had still not become extinct. The Goulds then went on to produce monographs of bird families, and the first of these was A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans which appeared between 1833-1835. Here we have 18 illustrations that Elizabeth contributed, and for me her image of a pair of Guianan Toucanets Selenidera piperivora is just perfect. By now her artistic accuracy had reached its peak, and then three years later a further monograph was produced – A Monograph of the Trogonidae, or Family of Trogons, and again we have 18 examples of Elizabeth’s work. By far the most impressive has to be the Resplendent Quetzel Pharomachrus mocinno with the male’s tail being so long as to require a special fold-out page in the original book.

    In 1838 the Goulds moved to Australia to work on The Birds of Australia, a gigantic seven-volume work which appeared between 1840-1848. They returned to England to start work on the book and Elizabeth completed 84 plates before her tragic death following the birth of their eighth child. Some 35 of these plates are reproduced here. There are too many great images for me to choose a favourite.

    I would argue that the artists employed by John Gould contributed as much to his success as he did himself. The artwork within his books was what sold them – as indeed is the case today with any field guide. I wonder what she would have thought about her original plates now changing hands for over £1000 each, or that 200 of her images have been brought together in one volume 182 years after her death.
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Andrea Hart is the Special Collections Manager at the Natural History Museum, London, England. She has authored numerous books and articles on the museum's library collections. Ann Datta studied zoology and librarianship and for many years was the zoology librarian at the Natural History Museum, London, England. She has published many articles on key natural history figures and collections – in particular on the life and works of John Gould.

Art / Photobook
By: Andrea Hart(Author), Ann Datta(Author), Elizabeth Gould(Illustrator)
248 pages, 220 colour illustrations
Publisher: Prestel
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