Thursday, July 24, 2008

One of the earliest publications on the flora and fauna of North America

Kingfisher by Catesby
Hermit Crab by Catesby

Arader Galleries is pleased to offer a selection of first edition, hand-colored copperplate engravings from Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina , Florida and the Bahama Islands . The first edition was printed between 1731 -1743 in London , and contains 220 plates published in two volumes, which depict birds, reptiles, fish, insects and mammals. The first volume was printed in 1731, and the second was printed in 1743. It is the first natural history book to use folio-sized color plates, and the first pictorial account of the f
lora and fauna of North America.

In 1712 the English born artist and naturalist embarked on a series of explorations to the southern colonies of British North America. Enthralled by the wildlife, he spent years traveling by foot through parts of present day Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas and Bahamas. He encountered and documented uncountable varieties of animal and plant life that where entirely unknown to Europeans. These travels would become the basis for Catesby’s breathtaking book.

The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Island
is one of the most sweeping, complete and unique natural history study ever created. It is considered a crowning achievement of 18th century art and science. This work was completed at the same time Linnaeus was working on his Systema Naturae, and used Catesby’s work as the basis of his system of binomial nomenclature for American species.
When Catesby returned to England in 1726 he was unable to afford the expense of having his drawings engraved professionally so he taught himself. He also carefully monitored the coloring either painting the impressions himself, or closely supervising the colorist to insure its fidelity to the original studies.The book provided an important model for later artists including Audubon and Alexander Wilson, who followed in Catesby’s footsteps a century later. His pioneering attempts to describe and portray birds accurately, life-sized and in botanical settings set him apart from his contemporaries.

The first edition of Mark Catesby’s book was printed on imperial folio sized hand-laid papers (approximately 14-1/2 x 20-1/2 inches) with various plate mark dimensions (approximately 9-5/8 x 13-3/8 to at least 10-1/4 x 13-7/8 inches). Chain lines on the paper appear to be uniformly spaced at 1 inch. Two Watermarks identify the first edition of Catesby prints from later editions. The first is the “Strausburg Lilly” over the initials “LVG”, representing the Dutchman Lubertus van Gerre-vink. This is also the same paper in which many of his original drawings are mounted on. A second Watermark found in the first edition is the “IHS” over “I. VILLEDARY”, representing the Jesuits and the Jean Villedary.

Be sure to view our collection of Catesby and other natural history artists such as Audubon, Barraband and Gould at our San Francisco Jackson Square location at 435 Jackson St., or online at

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