Mark Catesby's Natural History of America: The Watercolors from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle

By Morgan, Kathryn | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Mark Catesby's Natural History of America: The Watercolors from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle


Morgan, Kathryn, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Mark Catesby's Natural History of America: The Watercolors from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. By HENRIETTA MCBURNEY. Introductory essay by AMY R. W. MEYERS. London: Merrell Holberton; Publishers, 1997. 160 pp. $40.00.

MARK'S Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731-47) was the first major work depicting the flora and fauna of the British colonies in North America. Upon its publication, the secretary of the Royal Society declared it to be "the most magnificent work I know since the Art of printing has been discovered" (p. 11). Hailed in England, on the Continent, and in Britain's colonies during its author's lifetime, this magnificent work's importance in American history and the history of science, illustration, and printing continues through the twentieth century.

Henrietta McBurney's book, Mark Catesby's Natural History of America: The Watercolors from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. is the catalog of a traveling exhibition consisting of a selection of Catesby's original preparatory drawings from which the engravings for his Natural History were made. The exhibition, which ended its American tour in May 1997, was organized by the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, in conjunction with Houston's Museum of Fine Arts and made it possible for these draw ings to be seen for the first time in the United States.

McBurney. who is deputy curator of the Print Room at the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, has produced an outstanding scholarly text to accompany the color reproductions of the drawings that make up the largest part of the catalog. By studying an artists preliminary or preparatory drawings alongside the completed works, one can begin to understand the creative, intellectual, and even technical processes used in the creation of the work. McBurney analyzes Catesby's drawings and compares them with their corresponding engraved prints (which are also reproduced in the catalog, but in black and white and in a much smaller size), and in doing so she shares her insight and understanding of the artist and his work.

An introductory essay by Amy R. …

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