England: partly dating from the 1790s, assembled as an album circa 1825-1830.
Quarto album, 40 original watercolours tipped onto coloured pages, most signed "Sarah Smith" (see the handlist), ornately gilt-printed title-page with added hand-painted monogram in gilt reading "JLS & SS"; the binding of an embossed design of maroon roan, with central classical motif surrounded by an ornate floral pattern, signed by the manufacturer Remnant & Edwards with gilt-stamped "Scrap Book" lettered on the spine.
An intimate family album with beautiful original watercolours by Sarah Stone
An exquisite and unrecorded album of watercolours by Sarah Stone, the artist who made a decisive contribution to the early natural history of the Pacific and Australia, with a clear provenance to her family. The album is a dazzling testament to Stone's range and skill, and is also likely to be a key that will help unlock more details of her later career, because the great majority of works in the album are signed with her married name and therefore date from after her 1789 marriage to John Langdale Smith, by far the least known period of her work as an artist.
An exquisite and unrecorded album of watercolours by Sarah Stone, the artist who made a decisive contribution to the early natural history of the Pacific and Australia, with a clear provenance to her family. The album is a dazzling testament to Stone's range and skill, and is also likely to be a key that will help unlock more details of her later career, because the great majority of works in the album are signed with her married name and therefore date from after her 1789 marriage to John Langdale Smith, by far the least known period of her work as an artist.All-in-all, it is a fascinating and enigmatic assemblage, dominated by a series of Stone's signature depictions of sea-life, exotic birds and artificial curiosities, notably six wonderful depictions of parrots, including what seems certain to be a slightly ragged Rainbow Lorikeet (still recognisable despite the vagaries of taxidermy in this era). The variety is incredible, ranging from a fine image of the mysterious "Tahitian Chief Mourner" acquired by Captain Cook, through to religious icons, bucolic barnyard scenes and a number of rural and coastal scenes that appear to show holiday-makers. The latter images, which frequently feature a young couple, suggest that this is a very personal selection: it is difficult not to speculate that some of the scenes in England and the highlands of Scotland (or perhaps Switzerland), may in fact be autobiographical. This hypothesis is strongly supported by Stone's addition of the monogram "JLS & SS" to the title-page: given that the binding can be dated to the late 1820s (around the same time that her husband was afflicted by chronic illness, dying in 1827), we consider the album is very likely to have been meant as a memento or gift, perhaps for their only child, Henry. Sarah Stone (c. 1760-1844) was a teenager when she was employed as an artist by Sir Ashton Lever, the owner of the greatest eighteenth-century collection of natural history and objects of curiosity. She "spent hours in Sir Ashton Lever's museum, faithfully drawing and painting mounted birds, insects, mammals, fishes, lizards, fossils, minerals, shells and coral from all over the world, as well as ethnographical artefacts brought back from exploratory voyages, including those of Captain Cook" (Jackson, Sarah Stone, p. 9). Such is Stone's connection to Cook's voyages that it has tended to obscure her profound importance for the early natural history of Australia, despite her central role in the illustration of First Fleet surgeon John White's Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (1790).Although the album itself dates from the 1820s, it is clear that many of the watercolours are much earlier. Indeed, the fact that the works are signed Smith (not Stone), together with the condition of some of the birds, is the closest thing to a time-stamp that could be imagined on an undated watercolour: after 1789 because of the change in her name, but before the end of the 1790s because their appearance broadly matches those in other works of this pioneering era, such as the awkwardly posed birds in the Museum Leverianum (1796). Of the six exotic parrots, one has been firmly identified as an African Grey, Psittacus erithacus (Jackson, p. 21), two are certain to be Indonesian species, and one is considered to be a (probably juvenile) Rainbow Lorikeet. As yet, the precise nature of the other two remains unknown, although one could feasibly be a Rosella. A fourth watercolour depicts three beautifully-rendered seabirds, two gulls and a tern, on a rocky outcrop overlooking a bay. The album also includes an uncommonly fine depiction of seven exotic shells, dominated by a large Charonia, as well as a fine Cone with purple striations and another with an opalescent green. Another familiar inclusion in the Leverian were sharks (and their teeth), which must explain why the present album includes a fine example of a shark, very similar to one depicted in Stone's so-called Sketchbook I (see Kaeppler's Holophusicon, p. 72). The last of the definitively Leverian works is an exceptionally important depiction of the Tahitian Chief Mourner, the religious dress of tapa, shells and feathers which fascinated Cook, who personally acquired the examples that ended up in the Museum. Stone's depiction here is not unlike another of her watercolours now in the Bishop Museum (see Kaeppler, Artificial Curiosities, p. 124-5), but even a cursory comparison makes it quite clear that two distinct outfits are depicted; in short, it is possible that the sketch depicts the "lost" example of the dress from the second voyage, at one point recorded in the Leverian collection.A list of the watercolours and a fuller description is available.
Provenance: Gilt monogram "JLS & SS" (for John Langdale Smith and Sarah Smith), the embossed binding manufactured by Remnant & Edwards in the late 1820s. By the twentieth century the album was in the possession of Elizabeth Bateman, who worked at Hall's Bookshop in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, from 1955 until her death in 1983, and with her descendants until recently sold.
Christine E. Jackson, Sarah Stone: Natural Curiosities from the New World (London, 1998); Adrienne Kaeppler, Holophusicon: The Leverian Museum (Germany, 2011); [King & Lochee], Catalogue of the Leverian Museum (London, 1806); [Leverian]. A Companion to the Museum, (late Sir Ashton Lever's) (London, 1790).
Price (AUD): $145,000.00 other currencies Ref: #4504860