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28

PROPERTY OF A NOBLE FAMILY

Ornithology.
A MAGNIFICENT COLLECTION OF ORIGINAL ORNITHOLOGICAL WATERCOLOURS AND PRINTS. LATE EIGHTEENTH TO EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
Estimate
300,000500,000
JUMP TO LOT
28

PROPERTY OF A NOBLE FAMILY

Ornithology.
A MAGNIFICENT COLLECTION OF ORIGINAL ORNITHOLOGICAL WATERCOLOURS AND PRINTS. LATE EIGHTEENTH TO EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
Estimate
300,000500,000
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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Ornithology.
A MAGNIFICENT COLLECTION OF ORIGINAL ORNITHOLOGICAL WATERCOLOURS AND PRINTS. LATE EIGHTEENTH TO EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
13 volumes, with a separate, slightly later systematic manuscript index, together 14 volumes, folio (c.480 x 340mm.), approximately 1219 illustrations comprising 893 fine original watercolour drawings by Ramsay Richard Reinagle, Jean Lebrecht Reinold, Sydenham Teast Edwards, and J.W. Lewin, many with additional backgrounds added by Reinagle, and 326 hand-coloured engravings, mainly from Buffon, the majority with additional original watercolour backgrounds by Reinagle, the watercolours made from specimens in the collections of the Prince of Orange, Joseph Banks, the Leverian Museum, the British Museum, and others, some illustrations with accompanying manuscript notes and attributions, arranged taxonomically with a few pages left blank presumably in anticipation of further watercolours, eleven of the thirteen volumes bound in contemporary red half morocco, the other two bound in contemporary half calf, the index in contemporary wrappers, some wear to bindings, the calf bindings very worn
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Provenance

Emperor Woodford, sale (“The very valuable and elegant library of Emperor John Alexander Woodford Esq… [containing] an unique and exquisitely beautiful collection of prints and coloured drawings in ornithology”), Leigh and Sotheby, 11 May 1809, lot 1773; bought by John Dent, sale ("The splendid, curious, and extensive library of the late John Dent… including… a magnificent and unique collection of ornithology"), Evans, 25 April 1827, lot 931, £220 10s (a First Folio of Shakespeare in the same sale made £110 5s)

Catalogue Note

A magnificent and unique collection of ornithological drawings and prints, assembled by the colourful Emperor Woodford, a London naturalist and army officer who fled the country in 1809 in the face of accounting irregularities. The collection apparently constitutes an attempt to update Buffon, the most comprehensive record to date, and figure all known rare or exotic birds, drawing on many of the most important natural history collections of the day including those of François Levaillant, Joseph Banks, the Leverian Museum, the menagerie of the Prince of Orange and others. Woodford’s volumes, sold after his flight in 1809, were then acquired by the noted bibliophile John Dent F.R.S. (see Provenance, below).

Buffon’s monumental Histoire naturelle des oiseaux, from which most of the prints in this collection are taken, was completed in 1788, but every year that passed after that saw numerous voyages of discovery bringing back a prodigious array of new species, with professional collectors scouring the globe for new specimens. With its numerous original drawings of the rarest birds by some of the age’s most talented artists, the Woodford/Dent collection stood at the forefront of early nineteenth-century ornithology, and was a treasure-trove for ornithological research. Indeed, it is noted as one of the major sources which John Latham used for his greatest work, A General History of Birds, 1821-1828, which as a new edition of his earlier General Synopsis of Birds, was expressly intended to use the most up-to-date information and illustrations. See F.C. Sawyer, “Notes on Some Original Drawings of Birds used by John Latham”, Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, volume 2 (1949), 173-180, (“the whereabouts of the Woodford collection is not known”).

The artists

Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775-1862) was the son of Philip Reinagle, the acclaimed Anglo-Hungarian illustrator of Thornton’s Temple of Flora (see lot 64). The elder Reinagle was a pupil of Allan Ramsay, and gave his son that name. Ramsay Reinagle began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1788. He is known to have travelled to Holland to study rare bird paintings (see ODNB), but ornithological studies by him are uncommon.

Jean Lebrecht Reinold
(1744-1807) was a German painter who was the chief illustrator of François Levaillant’s first work Histoire naturelle des oiseaux d’Afrique (see lot 18).

Sydenham Edwards
(1768-1819) received his early training in botanical art under the tutelage of William Curtis, founder of The Botanical Magazine, for which Edwards supplied numerous drawings. His talents extended beyond just botany and he soon branched out into other forms of natural history art, including ornithology. He was elected to the Linnean Society in 1804.

John William Lewin
(1770-1819), who emigrated from England in 1800, was a pioneering artist of Australian natural history, and author of A Natural History of the Birds of New South Wales (Sydney, 1813), the first natural history book published in Australia. Previous descriptions of the Woodford/Dent collection mention only “Lewin”: there were at least four members of this famous bird-painting family, but Woodford is known to have bought work from J.W. Lewin while the artist was in Australia (see Richard Neville, Mr J.W. Lewin: Painter and Naturalist (Sydney: New South Publishing, 2012), p.158.

The collections used by the artists

The artists employed by Woodford made use of some of the greatest and most up-to-date ornithological collections available, containing specimens both alive and dead.

The Leverian Collection was founded by Sir Ashton Lever (1729–1788) who moved it from Manchester to Leicester Square, London in 1775. It was notable for including many ethnographic and natural history specimens from Cook’s Pacific voyages. The collection was bought by James Parkinson in 1784, who moved it to Blackfriars in 1788. The collection was finally dispersed at auction in 1806.

Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820) famously accompanied Captain Cook on his first Pacific voyage between 1768 and 1771. Subsequently he supported many other voyages of discovery, and built up a pre-eminent collection of natural history specimens, kept at his house-cum-research-institute in Soho Square. His private museum became the one of the founding collections of the British Museum's natural history division, now the Natural History Museum.

William V, Prince of Orange-Nassau (1748–1806) established a famous menagerie with the help of his mother Princess Anne of Hanover (daughter of George II), and Aernout Vosmaer, the collection's director, and an assiduous collector, who sourced specimens dead and alive from auction and from the Dutch colonies.

Exeter Exchange (popularly called Exeter Change), on the north side of the Strand, was famous for the menagerie which occupied its upper floors from 1773 until its demolition in 1829. It was owned by Thomas Clark.

Numerous other great collections are noted, including those of Levaillant (see above), the Child family at Osterley Park, and specimens brought from Asia by Pierre Sonnerat (see lot 87). The Leigh and Sotheby description from 1809 (near contemporary with the compilation of the collection) enumerates the sources still further: “On the Continent he [i.e. Woodford] has had access to the whole Cabinet of the late King of France, both that which was exhibited, and the cases till then unpacked. The Museum belonging to… Messrs. Gevre of Rotterdam, of Mr Zemmurt and Mr. Raes of Bromelwort, of Amsterdam were alike open to his inspection… and every rare Bird for many years imported into this country, will be found in these Drawings”.

Sotheby's is grateful to Christine Jackson, author of A Dictionary of Birds Artists of the World (Woodbridge, 1999) for her assistance in the cataloguing of this lot. See also illustration on upper cover.

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