SELBY, Prideaux John (1788-1867)
Little Egret Heron - Plate V
[V] (London: 1841-46). A lovely engraving from the second edition of Selby's "Illustrations of British Ornithology". Watermarked "J Whatman 1833." In excellent condition. Sheet size: 20 1/4 x 25 inches.
One of Selby's most appealing engravings from Volume II: Water Birds
Prideaux John Selby was a versatile gentleman naturalist. Born on 23 July 1788 in Alnwick, Northumberland, he inherited Twizell House and its estate in 1804, and throughout his life did not neglect his duties as a landowner, magistrate, High Sheriff, and then Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland. He married Lewis Tabitha Mitford, the daughter of Bertram Mitford of Mitford Castle, Northumberland, in 1810, and by 1817 had a happy marriage, three daughters, and a house that had become a sort of upmarket staging-post for naturalists heading North and South along the nearby Great North Road. Visitors were to include John James Audubon (who gave Selby and his brother-in-law Robert Mitford lessons in drawing), Sir William Jardine (one of Selby's closest friends and a collaborator on various later works), John Gould, William Yarrell, H.E.Strickland, to name but a few.
Natural history and ornithology had been Selby's passions from youth, and Christine Jackson notes, in her excellent introduction to the Sotheby's catalogue of the sale of the Bradley Martin collection of Selby watercolours, that, besides "collecting and preserving birds, Selby had observed them in the field, making careful notes of their habitat and habits. At his leisure, he also sensitively colored drawings of them. With this accumulation of practical knowledge, specimens, and some drawings, Selby embarked in 1819 on an ambitious project to publish the most up-to-date, life-size illustrations of British birds.
Since he had an incomplete pictorial record of his birds, many remained to be drawn while publication of the parts of the work proceeded. The aim was to issue each part comprising twelve plates at regular intervals of six months. The size of the paper chosen was elephant folio (27" x 21½") in order that most of the birds might be represented life-size. For each plate, Selby made watercolor paintings of the species."
"Selby etched his drawings on copper plates and then either took or sent the plates to William Home Lizars in Edinburgh. Either Lizars or one of his workmen took a pull [proof impression] from Selby's plate and worked on any parts necessary to bring the plate to a very fine state of completion. Selby and Sir William Jardine both purchased their copper plates and etching ground from Pontifex of London, and their letters refer to the progress made in drawing and 'biting' or etching their plates. If they made a mistake or accidently over-etched a plate, they relied on Lizars to correct by burnishing to lighten it" (Jackson, Bird Etchings, pp.202-204).