Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sharpe's Birds of Paradise

Richard Bowdler Sharpe. Monograph of the Paradiseidae, or birds of paradise, and Ptilonorhynchidae, or bower-birds.
Publisher: London, H. Sotheran, 1892-1898.

Sharpe's Birds of Paradise (reprint).
The Folio Society, 2011.
Only 1,000 copies of this book will be produced for sale, each hand-numbered on a special limitation page.

The Folio Society is proud to reproduce, for the first time, all 79 plates of Sharpe’s Birds of Paradise in book form at their actual size, with a foreword by David Attenborough. The original text, in a separate commentary volume, is introduced by Errol Fuller.

The 19th century saw a rapid evolution in the publication of natural history books. Magnificent large-scale tomes, sumptuously bound and illustrated with hand-coloured plates, celebrated all the latest discoveries of exotic birds and animals around the world. Richard Bowdler Sharpe was Assistant Keeper of the British Museum’s Zoology Department, and had collaborated with John Gould on The Birds of New Guinea. Following Gould’s death in 1881, Sharpe set out to create an entirely new work dedicated entirely to birds of paradise and to bower-birds, then thought to be related to birds of paradise.

A triumph of art and ornithology

Sharpe chose John Gerrard Keulemans and William Matthew Hart as the artists for the project. Both were specialists in the subject; many of Keulemans’s works can still be found on display in the American Museum of Natural History. Once printed, the plates were coloured in by hand, a laborious and skilled process. Three of Sharpe’s daughters were colourists who had worked on other ornithological books, and it is possible that they contributed to their father’s masterpiece. Certainly the hand-colouring is of a quality and sophistication that mark the culmination of a great tradition, evincing skills that modern practitioners find impossible to match.



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