Mark Catesby. Plate 1 from the Appendix. “Heath Hen.” From Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands,....
London: -1809. Fourth or later edition on wove paper. No watermark. Etching. Full original hand coloring. Browning in top half of image. Else, fine condition. Framed. Sold as is. A/A.
A wonderful print by the “Founder of American Ornithology,” Mark Catesby, from his monumental Natural History, the first natural history of American flora and fauna. First issued between 1731 and 1743, this work would eventually include 220 prints which for the first time systematically illustrated American birds, animals and plants. The impact of this work was immense, leading to two official later editions, published in 1754 and 1771. Though the text was not reprinted after the third edition, plates–such as this one–were run off in the early nineteenth century, proving the long standing appeal and importance of Catesby’s work. For their historical significance, appealing appearance and great scarcity, these are amongst the very finest American natural science prints ever produced.
This print is of an extinct relative of the Greater Prairie along with a lovely botanical illustration of a “Shooting Star” plant. On two trips to America, in 1712 and 1722, Mark Catesby traveled throughout the backwoods of the southeast, collecting botanical samples for his sponsors in England and in his self taught style making sketches of the wildlife that he saw. Upon his return from his second trip, his friends and sponsors encouraged him to publish a book of his drawings and notes, which he did beginning in 1731. This work, the Natural History, was almost completely a one man show. Not only did Catesby do his own field research and sketches, but since he could not afford a professional engraver, he took etching lessons and did his own etching of all but two of the plates. Besides being the first to produce an American natural history, Catesby was the first in a number of other items, viz. as the first to show the birds and animals in the natural habitats, and as the first to abandon the Indian names for his subjects, trying to establish scientific names based on generic relationships. For all these and many other reasons, these are magnificent historical and decorative prints. As Elsa Allen says, “the quality of the work was so superior to foregoing accounts that Mark Catesby ranks as the first real naturalist in America.” (American Ornithology Before Audubon, p. 465)
Another print from Catesby: