John Gould (1804-1881), also known as “The Bird Man”, was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, the son of John Gould, a gardener, and his wife Elizabeth Clatworthy. Gould’s training was as a taxidermist rather than an artist, and in 1828 he was appointed animal preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London. The striking nature of Gould’s work is the result of many factors. He was a master of arranging the birds, flaunting the characteristics of their plumage while also creating movement. With his family background in horticulture Gould had a great understanding of the natural surroundings, and would always choose plants where the birds would be found.
Gould himself did not execute finished drawings for any of his works, but he did provide rough pencil or watercolour sketches with notes for his artists to work from, and was the moving spirit behind the grand conception of the plates. The artists he employed – including his wife Elizabeth, Edward Lear, Joseph Wolf, Henry Richter and Joseph Hart – were among the most accomplished of their generation. For the production of A Monograph of the Trochilidae, a new technical process had to be invented to truly reflect the brilliance of the shining, metal-like feathers of the humming-birds. The mid-Victorian art of reproducing the metallic plumage is now lost.
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