These charming ornithological drawings are the creation of William Lewin (1747-1795), a London born illustrator turned natural history artist. The first edition of his Birds of Great Britain, begun in 1789, was a remarkable undertaking, as it contained 323 original watercolor illustrations (271 birds, 52 eggs), each of which he painted sixty times over for his subscribers. Thus this work has been described as "the rarest of all English bird books" as it is unique among such works for its original drawings. Lewin's images are simple and delicate, one bird to a picture, pictured in some characteristic pose. The colors are soft and muted, lightly applied, befitting the limpid quality of the medium. For the age, comprehensive treatment of the subject, and the extraordinary way the images were created, this is a special ornithological work.
The demand for Lewin's fine work from Birds of Great Britain, combined with the limits imposed by his having done its plates all by watercolor, led him in 1793 to begin a second edition of etched plates, allowing for relatively more copies to be published. Lewin, who was reaching the end of his life, was joined in this project by his three talented sons, all of whose work is credited individually on the separate plates. The result of this wonderful family enterprise is a series of winning and refined images, with each bird posed on a summary branch and often caught in a naturalistic, active pose. These are charming reminders of the wealth of activity during this exciting period of natural history.
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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Last updated January 2, 2019