Catesby 1754, Vol. 1 Pl. 80, The Small Bittern
Original Antique Print
14 1/4" x 20 1/4"
The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, 1754 Edition
A naturalist-explorer and self-taught artist who executed almost every aspect of this historic work, Mark Catesby possessed a unique combination of talents. To publish his work, he learned the complicated process of etching from the print maker Joseph Goupy. From 1731 to 1747, The Natural History was published in two volumes of five parts comprising a total of 200 plates. The Appendix, which was compiled from specimens available in England, added 20 more. The artist George Edwards revised and re-issued both volumes from 1748 to 1756, and in 1771 the publisher Benjamin White reissued the Edwards version adding Linnaean names to all Mark Catesby’s plants and animals. All editions have the same number of plates. Mark Catesby also contributed to the research of Carolus Linnaeus (1707—1778), who included over 70 of Mark Catesby’s bird illustrations in his landmark work, Systema Naturae.
Born in Sudbury, England, Mark Catesby (1682—1749) traveled from England to the new world on a legendary discovery expedition a century before John James Audubon first published his work. The son of a prominent family, Mark Catesby’s interest in the natural world began in childhood, when as a boy he was introduced to the renowned naturalist John Ray, who lived nearby and became an early influence. Catesby explains the forces that motivated him in the preface to Volume I:
“In designing the Plants, I always did them while fresh and just gather’d: And the Animals, particularly the Birds, I painted them while alive (except a very few) and gave them their Gestures peculiar to every kind of Bird, and where it would admit of, I have adapted the Birds to those Plants on which they fed, or have any Relation to. Fish which do not retain their Colours when out of their Element, I painted at different times, having a succession of them procur’d while the former lost their Colours: I dont pretend to have had this advantage in all, for some kinds I saw not plenty of, and of others I never saw above one or two: Reptiles will live many Months without Sustenance, so that I had no difficulty in Painting them while living.”
Mark Catesby gained extensive knowledge of the new world on his first visit to the colony of Virginia from 1712—1719. His return visit in 1722 was sponsored by William Sherard, Hans Sloane and others in the Royal Society. Landing in Charles Town (Charleston, South Carolina), for five years Mark Catesby explored the wilderness, taking notes, collecting specimens, and making drawings that documented quadrupeds, insects, amphibians and reptiles, fishes, birds, and plants. Whenever possible, he drew his subjects from life. In the preface to his monumental work he elaborates on this approach.
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