John Gould

Alternately known as ‘The Bird Man’ and ‘ The Father of Ornithology’, John Gould dedicated his life to producing some of the finest bird studies ever published. His output was prolific, covering more than 3000 birds from all parts of the world and constituting the most comprehensive record of bird species ever compiled. At the age of 14 Gould, whose father worked as a gardener at Kew, was apprenticed to the head gardener. He picked dandelions for Queen Charlotte’s favourite tea, and caught and stuffed birds, soon becoming proficient in the art of taxidermy. In 1824, he moved to London and a few years later, was made curator to the museum of the Zoological Society of London.

Gould’s marriage in 1829 to Elizabeth Coxen marked the beginning of his publishing career. With completely different but complimentary temperaments, they used their combined talents to produce A Century of Birds Hitherto Unfigured From the Himalaya Mountains. Works on birds were highly popular at that time, however Gould’s differed from previous ornithological publications in its use of the new printing method of lithography. Lithographic prints were taken from limestone rather than metal, and the inherent softness of the stone provided an ideal medium for the portrayal of feathers and fur. Elizabeth Gould, a talented artist, was quick to learn this new technique, and soon became adept at transferring her husband’s preliminary sketches directly onto the limestone slabs.

A Century of Birds was a great success being the most accurate series available on foreign ornithology at that time, and was followed by a string of publications Birds of Europe 1832-37, a Monograph of the Ramphastidae (Toucans) 1833-35 and a Monograph of the Trogonidae (Trogons) 1836-8 with the lithographs by Elizabeth and an impressive assembly of artists to include Edward Lear, Henry Richter, William Hart and Joseph Wolf.  Gould also provided part 3 on birds for The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle… the only work entirely by Mr and Mrs Gould. In 1838, the Goulds set off for Australia where Elizabeth’s brothers had emigrated to collect material for their Birds of Australia. They returned in 1840 and began publication, but within a year Elizabeth was dead at the age of 37 having given birth to her sixth child and Gould was left to complete the work on his own.

Despite the death of his wife, Gould continued working feverishly. Between 1849 and 1861, he issued a Monograph of the Trochilidae, containing humming birds from all parts of the New World. The colouring of these was spectacular, using pure gold leaf over-painted with transparent oil colours and varnish to copy the iridescent colours of the humming-bird’s feathers. The quality of the work on humming birds was subsequently matched by The Birds of Great Britain 1862-73, notable for the liveliness of the compositions and delightful depiction of young species. Gould died in 1881 leaving numerous projects unfinished but his body of work remains unrivalled in its comprehensiveness and beauty.

Below are examples from this collection. Please click on an image to see it in high-resolution with details of the work itself. For the full list of original antique Gould lithographs available,  please do contact us.