Londres, printed for the author, 1789-1794.
7 volumes large 4to [340 x 279 mm] of: I/ vii pp., (1) p., 41 pp. of text, 1 unnumbered watercolor, 43 watercolours numbered from 1 to 41 (2 plates bearing the number 18, and 2 bearing the number 19), 7 numbered watercolours of eggs from i to vii; II/ (1) title-page, 46 pp. of text, 45 watercolours numbered from 42 to 86, 6 numbered watercolours of eggs from viii to xiii; III/ (1) title-page, 42 pp. of text, 41 watercolours numbered from 87 to 127, 5 numbered watercolours of eggs from xiv to xviii; IV/ (1) title-page, 39 pp. of text, 38 numbered watercolours from 118 to 155, 10 numbered watercolours of eggs from xix to xxviii, transfer of painting on p.32; V/ (1) title-page, 38 pp. of text, 36 numbered watercolours from 166 to 201, 9 numbered watercolours of eggs from xxix to xxxvii; VI/ (1) title-page, 34 pp. of text, 34 watercolours numbered from 202 to 235, 10 watercolours of eggs numbered from xxxviii to xlviii, transfer of the drawing on some pp. of text; VII/ title-page, 33 pp. of text, 33 watercolours numbered from 236 to 265 (2 plates bearing the numbers 244, 250 and 255), 5 watercolours of eggs numbered from xlviii to lii, (3) ll. of index, first endpaper detached, small ink stain in the margin of pl. 22. In total 323 watercolored drawings.
Full green straight-grained morocco, triple gilt fillet around the covers with spandrels in the corners, spines ribbed and decorated with gilt fillets, gilt edges. Binding by H. Walther.
First edition of “the rarest of all English bird books”, one of only 60 luxurious copies illustrated with original gouaches by Lewin and exclusively reserved for the 60 subscribers.
Nissen IVB 5623; Fine Bird Books p. 119; Jackson, Etchings, pp. 159-164; Wood, p. 435; Allibone, II, 1090; Graesse, Trésor de livres rares, 190; Brunet, 1037.
The illustration includes 323 original full-page watercolours by William Lewin.
A production of such magnitude is unique in the history of ornithological publication. Indeed, the vast energy required by the author for the production of these 60 luxurious sets each illustrated with 323 watercolours (nearly 20 000 individual paintings in all) establishes The Birds of Great Birtin as a singular monument in English ornithology.
William Lewin was born in 1747 in Stepney in the East End of London. In his twenties he earned his living as a designer of textile patterns; by his mid-thirties he described himself as a painter. In the early 1780s, Lewin painted a few copies of the watercolor catalogue of the egg collection belonging to his patron the dowager duchess of Portland. He also prepared a few drawings for Dixon’s Voyage round the World (1789) and published his own Insects of Great Britain in 1795, but his Birds of Great Britain remains his chief contribution to field of natural history, to which he devoted that last six years of his life.
Having access to Tunstall’s collection of stuffed birds and eggs from the collection of the Duchess of Portland and Sir Ashton Lever’s Museum, Lewin probably began sketching his drawings in the 1770’s, and dedicated most part of the rest of his life to publish and illustrate The Birds of Great Britain, assisted by his sons Thomas and John William.
Superb copy of the remarkable project of Lewin who illustrated his work with original drawings: “the rarest of all English bird books” (Fine Bird books).
The superb illustration consists of 323 watercoloured drawings, of which 271 of birds and 52 representing their eggs.
This copy contains 1 unnumbered frontispiece, plates 1 to 265 and the plates bis 18, 19, 244, 250 and 255 that show the females of some species or variants of their feathers, which makes a total of 323 plates. Numerous plates have been enhanced with gum Arabic and embellished backgrounds painted in watercolor.
“Among all our bird illustratiors, William Levin is unique in using original watercolours to illustrate his book on British birds. He painted the 323 illustrations sixty times over for his subscribers, and then received complaints that he had limited the edition to so few copies (traditionally around 60 sets)… This book represents the first attempt to illustrate the eggs of all known British birds” (Jackson, Bird Etchings).
According to Swainson, Lewin was “the best zoological painter, and one of the most practical naturalists, of his day.”
“His birds are depicted in much livelier attitudes than the birds of earlier artists, as Lewin drew chiefly from life rather than relying on specimens. He was particularly adept at painting larger birds, among the best being his great eared owl. Usually he depicted only the male birds but included the females when their plumage differed. According to Swainson, Lewin’s « style was bold and his colouring powerful, without in general being highly finished”.”
Works completely watercoloured in the 18th century are extremely rare and always aroused fascination among amateurs.
This one is considered by the bibliography Fine Bird Books as one of the most beautiful and rewarded it with 3 stars (p. 91).
Superb copy of one of the rarest books of ornithology, complete with all its original watercolours, with particularly wide margins and preserved in its contemporary binding in decorated green morocco.