[ABBOT, John (1751-1840)]
[London: 1791]. Watercolour and graphite, on laid paper, numbered 56 in graphite in Abbot's hand in the lower margin corresponding to his manuscript Catalogue of Georgia Birds with Notes. Sheet size: 11 x 8 5/8 inces.
An original watercolour of an Orchard Oriole by an important naturalist in early America.
John Abbot was one of the most important and prolific of the early American natural history artists. Born in London in 1751, Abbot developed his interest in natural history and drawing as a child. His curiosity about the natural world was encouraged by his parents who were relatively wealthy (at one time the family library included copies of Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands as well as George Edwards' Natural History of Uncommon Birds and Gleanings of Natural History ).
Having received sponsorship from the Royal Society of London and the collectors Thomas Martyn and Dru Drury, Abbot sailed for Virginia in July 1773, with orders for both actual specimens and drawings of the local insects. For the next two years he continued to collect and paint, sending home three insect collections, although only one arrived safely. The loss of these two valuable collections at sea together with the worry over political unrest in Virginia led Abbot to move to Georgia: he settled in St. George Parish (later Burke County), Georgia in December 1775.
Abbot traveled widely throughout Georgia devoting his time to the study of the natural flora and fauna. The constant flow of specimen collections and watercolours of insects, and later of birds, ensured that his name became known to many of the foremost natural scientists and collectors of the day, both in America and Europe. Sir James Edward Smith, co-founder and first president of the Linnaean Society of London, recognised Abbot's talents, and responded enthusiastically to Abbot's desire to publish an illustrated work on the butterflies and moths of Georgia. This became the first printed work devoted to American entomology.
Abbot was a fervent bird watcher and this watercolour is a testament to his artistic skill and powers of observation. This excellent portrait of the Orchard Oriole exemplifies Abott's mastery of the genre, his subject both vivid and precise in a natural landscape.
Abbot's watercolours are amongst the finest natural history illustrations ever made: elegant and scientifically accurate, they rank with those of his famous contemporaries, William Bartram and Alexander Wilson. William Swainson described Abbot as one of the United States' most important natural history artists, as "a most assiduous collector, and an admirable draftsman of insects..." (quoted by Sabin).
Pamela Gilbert John Abbot Birds, Butterflies and Other Wonders London: Natural History Museum, 1998; Vivian Rogers-Price John Abbot in Georgia: The Vision of a Naturalist Artist Madison, Georgia: Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, 1983.