Item #5000704 A Natural History of the Birds of New South Wales, collected, engraved and faithfully painted after nature. John William LEWIN.
A Natural History of the Birds of New South Wales, collected, engraved and faithfully painted after nature.
A Natural History of the Birds of New South Wales, collected, engraved and faithfully painted after nature.

A Natural History of the Birds of New South Wales…
A Natural History of the Birds of New South Wales, collected, engraved and faithfully painted after nature.

London: J.H. Bohte, [1808]-1822.

Folio, 26 hand coloured engraved plates; later half calf, marbled boards, tan end papers; preserved in a custom made solander case.

Maria Lewin's publication of her husband's celebrated work

Lewin's celebrated book on Australian birds; a very good copy of the 1822 edition, the third, most complete, and realistically the earliest available edition given the absolute rarity of its two predecessor versions of 1808 and 1813.

Lewin's celebrated book on Australian birds; a very good copy of the 1822 edition, the third, most complete, and realistically the earliest available edition given the absolute rarity of its two predecessor versions of 1808 and 1813.

"Australia's first export commodity was its natural history. Literally from the very first day of European settlement in 1788 colonists began collecting" (Richard Neville, John Lewin Painter and Naturalist, SLNSW 2010, p.8). The artist and naturalist John Lewin (1770-1819) was at the forefront of this vanguard, arriving in Sydney in 1800. He was the first professional artist to settle in Australia, the first printmaker and the first to publish books illustrated with our unique natural history. in 1817 the botanist Alan Cunningham wrote "There is here… a singular character, greatly in favour at Government House, his name is Lewin, he is a painter. He has for a series of years set himself up for a Botanist, Zoologist, Entomologist, Ornithologist, Mineralogist, Conchologist & Artist. He is certainly excellent in his Birds, Beasts, Butterflies & fishes of this country, however he excels in Birds… his paintings decorate the walls of the best rooms of the Government House" (Neville, ibid., p.8).

After Lewin's death in 1819, his widow Anna Maria returned to England with their young son William. Maria, as she was known, was a botanical artist too, and a colourist of engravings for her husband; she had also run a Sydney tavern, "The Bunch of Grapes". On arrival in London and under financial stress she set about producing a new edition of her husband's beautiful book, adding an extra eight plates for this new edition, which is today the earliest edition likely to be found outside institutional collections of our first and one of our greatest illustrated books.

The first edition of his series of illustrations and descriptions of birds, printed in England in 1808 from drawings and texts sent from New South Wales, was almost entirely lost at sea, and a mere handful of copies survive; the second edition, printed in Sydney in 1813, is today known in just thirteen copies, and is one of the most famous and valuable of all Australian books.

John Lewin travelled extensively as an artist throughout the colony. His first expedition was in 1801 to the Hunter River with James Grant and later that year he travelled to Tahiti on an expedition organised by Governor Phillip Gidley King. He was also a member of the vice-regal party with Macquarie on the official crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1815.

Today he is celebrated through the superb books he published on Australian ornithology and entomology. Lewin's paintings are highly competent and his depiction of birds are particularly correct; the feather detail, legs, the positioning of the toes, posture of the bird, the understanding of male and female plumage, the interactions between male and female are accurate and show a keen observer at work.

Another important detail in Lewin's illustrations is the treatment of the plants: they demonstrate an observer who is familiar with his subject's habitat and life-history. All birds are painted with identifiable plant species and each plant species is part of a bird-plant association. His notes, although sparse, provide confirmation of his abilities as a naturalist. For example he records at plate 15, the Variegated Warbler, " Inhabits thick brushy wood. Frequents the low bushes, creeping close to the ground in search of food. - This bird always goes in small flocks, among which it is remarkable that one male only is to be seen in full plumage, and they arrive not at that state until the third year. - The male is a cheerful active bird, always singing on little elevated bushes it meets on its way. The species does not migrate". As Bernard Smith notes 'he grasped in short, the open nature of the tree, and he observed many features of its growth missed by earlier artists: the variety of colour in the trunk…; the strange angles and twisted appearance of saplings' (European Vision and the South Pacific).

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Provenance: Peter Dangar (with bookplate).

Ayer/Zimmer, 394; Ferguson, 873; Fine Bird Books, 91; Nissen, IVB 561; Nissen, SVB 313; Wantrup p.278; Whittell, p. 242.

Condition Report: A few scattered age marks otherwise a very good copy.

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