Bold, beautiful natural history: fine and rare prints at auction

DALLAS – A large single-owner collection of hand-colored natural history plates encompassing botany and ornithology, as well as smaller groupings of mammals, snakes, reptiles and amphibians, will highlight an auction of Rare Books, June 16-17, at Heritage Auction Galleries.

These prints are coming to auction from the archives of an institution that received the prints as a donation.

“The big names in the auction are quite familiar to naturalists and historians alike,” said James Gannon, Director of Rare Books at Heritage. “Prints by Audubon, Selby, Elliot, Redouté, Gould and Brookshaw are popular as decorative art.”

Most natural history prints began their journeys as hand-colored lithographs, engravings or plates in one of a handful of natural history books from publishers who produced bound volumes in the mid-to-late 1800s. Dealers, designers and collectors began to understand the value in the illustrations as works of art, and began selling the prints individually.

The entire collection is being sold without reserves, so competitive bidding is expected. Estimates on the prints range from $500-$4,000 for most, with the top examples expected to bring in the range of $10,000 or more.

“The plates in the auction, typically, are the largest versions printed of these beautiful illustrations of flora and fauna,” said Gannon.
Not all the top lots in this collection will come in the way of single hand-colored prints. Two complete sets are the subject of pre-auction speculation for their rarity as complete volumes and for their potential value. The two sets feature John James Audubon – The Quadrupeds of North America, in three volumes – and Pierre Joseph Redouté – Les Roses, from 1824.

Audubon also features prominently in the print section of the natural history grouping with several offerings from his two 19th-century double-elephant folio editions.

Other highlights of the prints section include Daniel Giraud Elliot’s Pavo Cristatus (Common Peafowl), a hand-colored lithographic plate from Elliot’s monograph on Pheasants; Pierre Joseph Redouté’s Amaryllis, a hand-colored plate from his Les Liliacees (Paris: 1802-1816); and John Gould’s Bubo Maximus, a hand-colored lithograph of the Eagle Owl from Gould’s Birds of Great Britain (London: 1862-1873).

The contributions of illustrator Edward Lear deserve special mention. Lear was a well-known ornithological illustrator until he found fame and success for his morbid drawings and wild nonsense poetry. He is represented in the auction via several lots, most interestingly in his Macrocercus Hyacinthinus – Hyacinthine Maccaw, a hand-colored lithograph from his Illustrations of the Family Psittacidae, or Parrots (London: 1830-1832).

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