Lot 411
  • 411

Two George II embossed bird pictures circa 1750, attributed to Samuel Dixon

4,000 - 6,000 GBP
bidding is closed


in black japanned frames

Catalogue Note

A native of Dublin, Samuel Dixon almost certainly studied at the Dublin Society’s drawing school under Robert West and later specialized in bird and flower paintings, making use of a technique known as ‘basso relievo,’ whereby parts of the picture are embossed using a copper plate and afterwards covered in gouache. Pictures of this kind were partly intended as decoration but partly as models for amateur artists and needleworkers in Irish and English society.

Dixon’s first ‘basso relievo’ set consisting of twelve formal flower arrangements was completed in 1748 and advertised in April of that year in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal. The article invited the ‘Nobility and Gentry’ to purchase these pictures which were ‘not only ornamental to Lady’s Chambers but useful to paint and draw after or imitate in Shell or Needlework.’ The success of ‘Flower Pieces’ led to the preparation of ‘a Sett of curious Foreign Bird Pieces,’ advertised in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal for 4th April 1749 and again on 13th January 1750 as ‘near finished.’ Like the flower pictures they were a set of twelve but larger in size. The depiction of the birds and the notes provided on Dixon’s dedicatory labels were derived from the first four volumes of George Edwards’ Natural History of Uncommon Birds, published between 1743 and 1751. Whilst there is consistency to the way in which these pictures were painted, there are slight differences in handling of the birds and foliage. It is interesting to note that Dixon employed three ‘youths,’ namely James Riley, Gustavus Hamilton and Daniel O’Keefe, to paint these pictures under Dixon’s supervision in order to keep up with demand. These boys, who were under the age of sixteen and still students in the Dublin Society’s drawing school, often signed their work with their initials, and ultimately went on to become fairly notable miniature painters.

In 1753 preparations for another set of bird pictures began. Faulkner’s Dublin Journal for 21 August of that year states: ‘We hear that Mr Dixon of Capel-Street, is designing a most curious large Set of Pictures in Basso Relievo, which we are informed he intends publishing by Subscription.’ Two years later on 9th September 1755, the set was advertised in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal as ‘now completely finished’ and ready for distribution to its subscribers throughout the country. Within the same article, Dixon announced his intention of going abroad and of selling his stock- this new set of pictures being the only exception. Dixon’s stock in trade goods were sold by auction in early 1756.


Ada K. Longfield, ‘Samuel Dixon’s Embossed Pictures of Lowers and Birds’, Quarterly Bulletin of Irish Georgian Society, Vol. XVII, o. 4, October-December 1975.
Ada K. Longfield, ‘To Paint a Mockingbird’, Country Life, January 25, 1979, pp. 196-197.
Ada K. Longield, ‘More about Samuel Dixon and His Imitators’, Quarterly Bulletin of the Irish Georgian Society, Vol. XXIII, Nos. 1&2, January-June 1980.