John Gould (1804 - 1881)

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John Gould, the Bird Man, was the enterprising genius behind the creation of 2999 different hand colored lithographic plates of birds and animals. He was born on September 14, 1804, at Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast in England. As the son of a gardener, Gould had no formal university training. He considered himself a self-made man. He gained his ornithological knowledge by observation and experience. Nevertheless his contributions to this science were so vast that in 1843 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

Gould married Elizabeth Coxen in 1827. Elizabeth traveled and worked with Gould until her death in 1841. Shortly after their marriage, Gould, who was a skilled taxidermist, acquired a collection of bird skins from the hill country of the Himalayas, many of them new to Europe. After he stuffed and mounted them, he realized their artistic possibilities, and his new life as a bird illustrator began. Elizabeth helped to draw, lithograph, and color many of his first plates. Over the next 57 years Gould published more than forty large folio volumes. The first set appeared in 1831 and the last in 1888, seven years after Gould's death.

Scholars think that Gould himself did the original sketches for all the plates. Other artists - Elizabeth Gould, Edward Lear, Joseph Wolf, William Hart, and H.C. Richter did most of the hand coloring and lithography. With the hummingbirds, which are naturally iridescent, gold or silver leaf was used under the watercolor to mirror their natural beauty. Richard Bowdler Sharp cooperated with Gould on his later works and supervised the completion of the works after Gould's death in 1881.

In his pursuit of new and different birds, John Gould traveled to Asia, Australia and the East Indies. Many consider his series of natural history plates as the finest works of bird illustrations ever presented. His Hummingbirds, along with his Toucans and his Birds of Paradise, are generally most in demand by collectors, but his other works are the same exquisite quality.

The making of these prints was technically and artistically demanding. Gould's original sketches were transferred to stone with special pencils or chalk. They were printed by hand from the stones. Each print was hand-colored, and issued in small sets to subscribers only. As the prints were very expensive for their time, only a few hundred of the wealthiest people and institutions could afford them, accounting for their rarity today

John Gould

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