BALTIMORE BIRDS, N. AMERICA.
[London]. 1785. Watercolor and ink on a single sheet of heavy wove paper, 43 x 35 cm. Scattered foxing, marginal browning from old mat, not affecting image. Overall very good. Matted. This striking watercolor of a pair of Baltimore Orioles was executed by the noted British natural history illustrator, Sarah Stone, while working for Sir Ashton Lever's Leverian Museum. It is a fine example of the most unusual genre of original 18th-century art relating to American natural history. Sarah Stone (1760-1844) was already renowned as an illustrator of natural history specimens when still in her teens. An autodidact whose father was a fan painter, she began working for Sir Ashton Lever in 1777, illustrating objects in his famous museum. Over the next decade she executed hundreds of watercolors of all sorts of ethnologic and natural items, working from the specimens in the Museum. These included, most notably, pieces from America and items from Cook's third voyage. She became a well known London character and exhibited her pictures widely, although few pictures are known from after her marriage in 1789. The Leverian Museum, where the bulk of Stone's work was done, was a well known London landmark of the era. Sir Ashton Lever, its founder, first put his vast collection of natural history and "curiosities" on display in 1773. Within a few years, when Sarah Stone began to work for him as an illustrator, Lever was established in Leicester Square and his museum was a popular attraction, to which he added constantly. In 1783 he tried to sell the contents to the British Museum, and failing in that, en bloc by lottery. He sold it at a loss in 1786, but it remained together under new management until it was broken up at auction in 1806. The Baltimore Orioles were certainly stuffed specimens in the Museum at the time Stone painted them in 1785. At the point when Stone produced this watercolor, there were very few extant illustrations of North American birds. Only Mark Catesby's NATURAL HISTORY OF CAROLINA... had illustrated the ornithology of the British colonies in North America to any extent; it contained the only colored image then published of the Oriole. Another, in black and white, appeared in Pennant's ARCTIC ZOOLOGY, and it may appear, also uncolored, in Buffon's HISTOIRE NATURELLE DES OISEAUX. As with her work on Australian specimens, Stone's work here made a significant addition to the iconography of American natural history. An important and interesting illustration of American natural history. Christine E. Jackson, SARAH STONE NATURAL CURIOSITIES FROM THE NEW WORLDS (London, 1998), tells the story of Stone and the Leverian Museum in great detail with numerous illustrations.
(Item ID: WRCAM28469) $15,000.00