The Birds of Great Britain
London:Printed for Taylor and Francis for the Author.-1873.
First edition, 5 volumes, folio (558 x 375mm.), 367 hand-coloured lithographed plates from drawings by Gould, Joseph Wolf, H.C. Richter and W. Hart, mostly lithographed by Richter and Hart, list of subscribers, lists of plates, nineteenth-century tan half morocco gilt, gilt edges.John Gould’s most popular and perhaps his finest work.
This is Gould’s first collaborative work with Josef Wolf. The German natural history painter Josef Wolf brought to Gould’s monographs a realistic vigour and sensibility of nature lacking in the work of many of Gould’s studio artists. “All of Wolf’s plates represent a moment of suspended action. Gone are the stilted tableaux of birds frozen in profile purely for the sake of identification; Wolf’s birds all bear the mark of the character of the species.
‘You know’, remarked Wolf, ‘I make a distinction between a picture in which there is an idea, and the mere representation of a bird’” (Isabella Tree, The Ruling Passion of John Gould).
‘The most popular of all his works is always likely to be Birds of Great Britain’ Fine Bird Books. The text is more extensive and the illustrations depict many more chicks, nests and eggs than in Gould’s other works.
The work proved so popular that Gould was forced to increase the size of the edition after just two of its eventual twenty-five parts were issued.
Gould was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, the first son of a gardener and probably had a scant education. Shortly afterwards his father obtained a position on an estate near Guildford, Surrey, and then in 1818 Gould became foreman in the Royal Gardens of Windsor. He was for some time under the care of J. T. Aiton, of the Royal Gardens of Windsor. The young Gould started training as a gardener, being employed under his father at Windsor from 1818 to 1824, and he was subsequently a gardener at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire. He became an expert in the art of taxidermy. In 1824 he set himself up in business in London as a taxidermist, and his skill helped him to become the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London in 1827.
Gould's position brought him into contact with the country's leading naturalists, and also meant that he was often the first to see new collections of birds given to the Zoological Society of London. In 1830 a collection of birds arrived from the Himalayas, many not previously described. Gould published these birds in A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1830–1832). The text was by Nicholas Aylward Vigors and the illustrations were lithographed by Gould's wife Elizabeth, daughter of Nicholas Coxen, of Kent. Most of Gould's work were rough sketches on paper from which other artists created the lithographic plates. His illustrated works amounted to 41 folio volumes, an enormous output and amongst the finest the ‘Birds of Great Britain’
Fine Bird Books, p.78; Nissen IVB 372; Sauer 23; Wood, p.365; Zimmer, p.261