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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Birds - The Art of Ornithology, 6 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Birds: The Art of Ornithology (Hardcover)
Sometimes with the endless stream of new publications it is possible to overlook a work that should be reviewed. This large-format book was published nearly five years ago and because of its significance it is being included now.

Most people think of The Natural History Museum as a place that only contains stuffed animals, but away from the public areas it is also home to a million books, and even more importantly a collection of half a million natural history illustrations. For obvious reasons it is not possible to make these widely available for public inspection, but through this book we are allowed an insight to some of the gems in the collection that demonstrate how bird art has developed over the years.

This is a sumptuous publication printed on fine paper with excellent depth of colour. In most cases it includes images of large paintings that have by necessity been reduced in size, but it also goes to the other extreme by taking some small illustrations and enlarging them.

Among the artists featured are a number that I had never heard of before, and among my favourite illustrations are some for which the artist is simply not known. A great example of this is the Temminck's Tragopan that adorns the book's cover.

Four sections analyse each of the main periods in which bird art developed in a particular direction. The early engravers prior to 1800 are treated in some detail. In a way we should perhaps admire their work more than those who followed as they had few tools and were the trailblazers of ornithological illustration. Personally I would have liked to see more of Thomas Bewick's work here, but I suppose you could argue that his work has been profiled fully elsewhere. By contrast I had never previously seen any work by Sarah Stone but I question whether her contribution justifies ten plates in this book. Similarly the section covering 1800-1850 includes no less than sixteen examples by John James Audubon and thirteen by William MacGillivray. I am not criticising their ground-breaking work, but simply the emphasis that it has been given.

So the real limitation that the book presents is the fact that by using items held by the Museum the author has faced some limitations on his choice of artist. Although almost every significant artist is mentioned it is a shame that more work of others has not been included. For example there are only two plates included by the highly influential German artist Joseph Wolf, whose style was adopted by Archibald Thorburn. In the section covering "The Golden age of Lithography" there are great examples by Edward Lear, John Gerardus Keulemans, and that great duo - John and Elizabeth Gould. In those days everyone worked from specimens, and Gould illustrated all of the known hummingbird species despite having never seen one alive!

The final section covers from 1890 to the current day. There are a number of examples by Henrik Grönvold, who painted specimens for the Museum before embarking on a highly successful career as a book illustrator. To me his illustrations are flat compared to those by George Edward Lodge, whose designs are life-like and dynamic. But in a way this section of the book is the weakest. Yes there are examples of key artists such as Frederick William Frohawk and Claude Gibney Finch-Davies , but just one by Charles Tunnicliffe. What about Eric Ennion, Peter Scott and Robert Gillmor? Personally my early birding life was dominated by them and by Basil Ede, Raymond Harris Ching and Arthur Singer - none of the last three are even mentioned.

While I am rather critical of the limited range of illustrations used I am full of praise for the background research that has gone into this book with a wealth of information on every page. Jonathan Elphick writes in an easy style that really makes it an enjoyable book to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the art of ornithology, 24 April 2009
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G. I. Forbes (edinburgh) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Birds: The Art of Ornithology (Hardcover)
This is another superb book from the Natural History Museum that deserves a 5 star plus rating.It deals with bird art from prehistory to the present date.
The first section entitled beginnings records bird art murals and wall art that goes back thousands of years up ti the time of of wood cuts.
Part 2 deals with the period 1650-1800 the time of engravers and exolorers.Some of the painpings are a bit fanciful as tyey were painted from oral description but the vast majority are remarkably accurate.
The third part deals with the early lithographs and the books of Aodubon and others in the years 1800-1850.
!850-1990 saw the golden age of bird art in lithographs, books and exhibitions which would never be repeated.
Part5 records the age of transition (1890- the present)that saw the end of lavish books and more emphasis on individual paintings of birds.The introduction of photography and especially the digital camera has taken its toll on bird art.
The illustrations are outstanding and the text first class.The book is to be highly recommended
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Birds: The Art of Ornithology
Birds: The Art of Ornithology by Robert Prys-Jones (Hardcover - 8 Nov 2004)
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