Daniel Giraud Elliot

7 March 1835 – 22 December 1915

Zoologist and ornithologist, commissioning the greatest bird artwork since Audubon

With a deep passion for natural history, and founder of the American Ornithological Union, Elliot is an important figure in the world of ornithological art.

Born in New York, Elliot later moved to Chicago where he became curator of zoology at the city’s Field Museum of Natural History. He was also one of the founders of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Although he had artistic skills himself, Elliot recognised his own limitations and preferred to commission other artists to bring his ideas to life. Elliot’s collections therefore are created mainly from the work he commissioned from others.

With great personal wealth, Elliot had the resources to commission large, extravagant works of art at a time when many publishers were opting for smaller formats and less-expensive color techniques. As a result, Elliot’s exquisite and dramatic pieces stand apart from the other ornithological works of the late 1800s.

As a young man, Elliot travelled through Europe and Asia in pursuit of new bird and animal species. He often spent several years away from home at a time, studying and collecting his specimens.

With great personal wealth, Elliot had the resources to commission large, extravagant works of art at a time when many publishers were opting for smaller formats and less-expensive color techniques. As a result, Elliot’s exquisite and dramatic pieces stand apart from the other ornithological works of the late 1800s.

Elliot’s work is often compared to the great naturalist and artist John James Audubon. Indeed, Elliot himself alluded to the influence Audubon had on his work, writing in the preface to one of his collections:

“Since the time of Wilson and Audubon, no work has been published upon American Ornithology, containing life-size reproductions of the various species that have been discovered since the labors of those great men were finished… It was, therefore, with the desire to contribute, as might be in my power, towards the elucidation of the comparatively little know species of the Birds of North America, their habits and economy, as well as to render their forms familiar so far as life-size representations of them might serve to do, that I undertook the present publication.”

Two artists that Elliot regular worked with were the German artist Joseph Wolf and the Dutch artist Joseph Smit, (both of whom had worked for the English ornithologist John Gould).

Elliot’s commissions are distinctive in color and size and often show detailed depictions of birds within their natural habitats.

Elliot died in New York of pneumonia, aged 80. However, his work is still immensely popular today and he is credited for reviving the art of lavish color-plate books on nature.

Elliot’s first love was birds, and he produced large images on pittas, the pheasants, grouse, hummingbirds, and birds of paradise. In addition, he also published a folio-size monograph on cats. 

Elliot wrote the text of the books himself en commissioned artists such as Joseph Wolf and Joseph Smit to provide the illustrations. 

Elliot’s publications:

  • A Monograph of the Pittidae, or Family of Ant Thrushes (1861-1863). 
    31 giclee prints after the hand-colored originals
  • Monograph of the Tetraoninae, or Family of the Grouse (1864-1865). 
    27 giclee prints after the hand-colored originals
  • A Monograph of the Phasianidae, of Family of the Pheasants (1870-1872). 
    79 giclee prints after the hond-colored originals
  • A Monograph of the Paradiseidae, or Birds of Paradise (1873). 
    36 giclee prints after the hand-colored originals
  • A Monograph of the Felidae, or Family of Cats (1878)
    43 giclee prints after the hand-colored originals
  • A Monograph of the Bucerotide, or Family of the Hornbills (1882). 
    60 giclee prints after the hand-colored originals
  • Review of the Primates (1913). 
    Not available
 

View all Elliot prints below