New Book | The Art of the Bird

Posted in books by Editor on January 13, 2020

From The University of Chicago Press:

Roger Lederer, The Art of the Bird: The History of Ornithological Art through Forty Artists (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2019), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-0226675053, $35.

The human history of depicting birds dates to as many as 40,000 years ago, when Paleolithic artists took to cave walls to capture winged and other beasts. But the art form has reached its peak in the last four hundred years. In The Art of the Bird, devout birder and ornithologist Roger J. Lederer celebrates this heyday of avian illustration in forty artists’ profiles, beginning with the work of Flemish painter Frans Snyders in the early 1600s and continuing through to contemporary artists like Elizabeth Butterworth, famed for her portraits of macaws. Stretching its wings across time, taxa, geography, and artistic style—from the celebrated realism of American conservation icon John James Audubon, to Elizabeth Gould’s nineteenth-century renderings of museum specimens from the Himalayas, to Swedish artist and ornithologist Lars Jonsson’s ethereal watercolors—this book is feathered with art and artists as diverse and beautiful as their subjects. A soaring exploration of our fascination with the avian form, The Art of the Bird is a testament to the ways in which the intense observation inherent in both art and science reveals the mysteries of the natural world.

Roger J. Lederer is professor emeritus of biological sciences at California State University, Chico, where he taught courses on ornithology and ecology. He is the author of Beaks, Bones, and Bird Songs: How the Struggle for Survival Has Shaped Birds and Their Behavior; coauthor of Latin for Bird Lovers; and creator of Ornithology.com.



1  Flemish Baroque Artists, 1580–1700
From the early seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries, Flemish painters favoured exotic birds as subjects, especially parrots and peacocks.
Frans Snyders (1579–1657)
Carel Pietersz Fabritius (1622–1654)
Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636–95)

2  Early English Artists, 1626–1716
Animal representations were superseded by religious paintings and portraiture, but painters of these genres often worked with animaliers to add creatures to scenes.
Francis Barlow (1626–1704)
Jakob Bogdani (1658–1724)
Marmaduke Cradock (1660–1716)

3  Natural History, 1680–1806
Explorers brought back specimens from exotic destinations, popularizing natural history. As new birds were discovered, collected, and named, the science of ornithology came into being with the help of artists who illustrated these new discoveries.
Mark Catesby (1682/3–1749)
George Edwards (1694–1773)
Aert Schouman (1710–1792)

4  Before Ecology
Natural history focused on the identification of organisms. Naming became more standardized, thoughtful, and detailed, as did the art that accompanied it.
Thomas Bewick (1753–1828)
Lady Elizabeth Symonds Gwillim (1763–1807)
Alexander Wilson (1766–1813)

5  Early Scientific Illustration
Art began to accurately reflect the habitat and behaviour of birds, as observation revealed the subtle details of their physical appearance and their behavioural patterns.
John James Audubon (1785–1851)
Prideaux John Selby (1788–1867)
Elizabeth Gould (1804–1841)

6  In the Age of Darwin
The age of Darwin was also the golden age of ornithology. Ideas about how birds’ shape, colours and behaviour came to be and what relationships they had were debated.
Edward Lear (1812–1888)
Joseph Wolf (1820–1899)
William Matthew Hart (1830–1908)

7  Art and Science Overlap
As exploration of the natural world expanded, artists became important observers. Comparing species and varieties required artists to put more than one species on a page, and scientific monographs on specific bird groups became more common.
John Gerrard Keulemans (1842–1912)
Robert Ridgway (1850–1929)
Archibald Thorburn (1860–1935)
Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939)
Allan Cyril Brooks (1869–1946)
Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874–1927)

8  Broader Appeal
The skills of artists, the variety of their styles, their publications, and their reach to communities outside of the art world stoked the public’s interest both in birds and art.
Claude Gibney Finch-Davies (1875–1920)
Lilian Marguerite Medland (1880–1955)
Neville William Cayley (1886–1950)
Jessie Arms Botke (1883–1971)
Eric Ennion (1900–1981)
Roger Tory Peterson (1908–1996)

9  Bird Art Support Birds
When the environmental movement began in earnest in the latter half of the twentieth century, people noticed that bird habitats were disappearing and bird numbers declining. Artists helped to increase public awareness of these environmental issues.
Janet Turner (1914–1988)
Arthur B. Singer (1917–1990)
Keith Shackleton (1923–2015)
William Thomas Cooper (1934–2015)
James Fenwick Lansdowne (1937–2008)

10  Ornithological Art Expands
Bird field guides and illustrated books maintain their popularity but artists are also producing novel, creative and bizarre bird art that continues to enthral and inspire.
Raymond Harris-Ching (b. 1939)
Hilary Burn (b. 1946)
Elizabeth Butterworth (b. 1949)
Lars Jonsson (b. 1952)
David Allen Sibley (b. 1961)


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