John Gould

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JOHN GOULD English (1804-1881)

Portrait of John Gould bird artistJohn Gould (1804 - 1881) remains one of the most significant figures in 19th century bird art both in his prolific output and the aesthetic beauty of his plates Credited with the publication of more than 3,100 hand-colored lithographs of bird species from various parts of the world, his name is associated with vibrant and carefully executed folio volumes created in partnership with some of the period's most respected bird artists, among them, Edward Lear, Joseph Wolf and William Hart. This dual expertise in both science and art heightened his prominence,

The son of a gardener, Gould was born in 1804 in Dorset and spent his early years training under his father, the foreman in the Royal Gardens of Windsor. After six years at Windsor, he moved on to Ripley Castle in Yorkshire, becoming an expert taxidermist and eventually setting up a taxidermy business in London. His skill proved substantial, and at only 23, he was appointed as the first Curator and Chief Taxidermist at the museum of the newly established Zoological Society of London.
Gould's role at the Zoological Society exposed him not only to the country's leading naturalists but also many of the newest collections of birds given to the museum. In 1830, he published A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains, a collection of lithographs based on birds from the Himalayas, followed by four more over the next seven years including the five-volume Birds of Europe, completed in 1837. This collection was luxuriously produced in oversized, deluxe folios with brilliantly hand colored plates, with Gould providing the text to accompany the dramatic illustrations.
Birds of Europe brought considerable wealth to Gould and his wife, Elizabeth, whom accomplished many of the drawings, allowing them to travel to Australia to research his next project, The Birds of Australia (1840 - 1848). A collection of 600 plates in seven volumes, The Birds of Australia counted 328 newly discovered birds among its contents, all of which named by Gould himself.

Gould had a lifelong fascination with hummingbirds, and his hummingbird plates are among his most inventively composed and artistically sophisticated. Although he had never seen one live, he had exhibited a collection of 320 species at the Great Exhibition of 1851; however, it wasn't until a trip to Washington, D.C. in 1857 that he witnessed his first live specimen, a ruby-throated hummingbird. Gould attempted to bring several back to England, but the project failed. Nonetheless, he published   A Monograph of the Trochilidae or Humming Birds with 360 plates (1849-61). Additional titles include The Birds of Asia (1850-83); The Birds of Great Britain (1862-73); and The Birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan Islands (1875-88).


John Gould has been honored by having several organisms named after him, such as Gould's Mouse, Gould's Petrel, Gould's Sunbird and the Gouldian Finch, the last named for his wife. In 1909, the Gould League was founded in Australia, with its major sponsor being the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Australia's oldest national birding association.