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John Gould

John Gould

 

John Gould (1841-1881) was the most prolific artist and publisher of ornithological subjects of all time. In nineteenth century Europe his name was as well known as Audubon's was in North America. Unlike Audubon, whose life's work focused on one region
whose life's work focused on one region, Gould traveled widely and employed other artists to help create his lavish hand-colored lithographic folios. Nearly 3,000 lithographs were created during the span of his long career.

 

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In 1829 Gould married Elizabeth, beginning a business and artistic partnership that would transform his fortunes. Together they produced their first book on birds, A Century of Birds Hitherto Unfigured from the Himalaya Mountains based on a collection of skins received by the Society. The book was issued in folders between 1830 and 1832 and comprised 80 colour plates featuring hundreds of birds with the illustrations drawn by Elizabeth. Unable to find a publisher for this first book, Gould published it himself. Publishing large colour-plate books—with their reputation for breaking the hearts of their compilers and driving them to bankruptcy—was a risky undertaking. All the costs of production were very high, from obtaining the specimens, doing the illustrations, making the plates, printing them and then, in Gould’s case, colouring them by hand. Gould was quick to see the potential of the newly popularised technique of lithographic printing, where the illustration is drawn in reverse on the surface of a limestone block, printed in a single colour, and then coloured by hand. Giving a much freer line and particularly suited to reproducing subtle effects of texture and shading, lithography could produce a much more life-like image. Gould himself usually sketched the design for the plates, and until her death Elizabeth produced the finished painting (or key plate), transferred it in reverse onto the stone, and after the prints were run off they were coloured by a team of artists matching their colours to those of the key plate. Throughout his career, Gould used the services of a number of artists. Edward Lear began his association with the Goulds by assisting Elizabeth ‘in all her drawings of foregrounds’. The Birds of Europe (1832–37) features the work of both Elizabeth and Edward Lear. His life’s output was prodigious: over 40 volumes, containing 2999 colour plates. Gould himself was not an artist, and although he designed the plates and carefully supervised their production, after Elizabeth’s death he entrusted the artistic work to others—notably H.C. Richter, William Hart and Joseph Wolf. He never retired, but kept working up until his death on 3 February 1881. The Birds of New Guinea and the Adjacent Papuan Islands on which he was then working, was completed for him by his old friend and colleague, R. Bowdler Sharpe of the British Museum. This final work contains some supplementary Australian birds, as well as the material described in its title.
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