[STONE, Sarah (1761-1844)]
[Pair of Original Watercolors of a Buffle-Headed Duck and a King Eider Duck, attributed to Stone]
[London: ca. 1780-1790]. Two watercolors, each on laid paper, each approximately 9¾ x 13¾ inches. Matted and framed. Metal leaf gold frames, French mats. 21 x 24 1/2 inches.
Two original watercolors by Sarah Stone of American species of ducks.
A splendid pair of original watercolors featuring ducks by Sarah Smith (née Stone), a prolific painter of natural history subjects in London between 1777 and 1806. Stone worked exclusively for Sir Ashton Lever, documenting Lever's vast private collection of ornithological, zoological, and ethnographical specimens. Stone's work is admired today for the delicacy of the brushwork, a deft touch with color, and the requisite skill necessary to tackle such a diverse range of subject matter. Of the various subjects which Stone saw fit to translate to canvas, ornithological subjects were her favorite, and constitute the majority of her known work. Her earliest studies of birds date from 1777, when she was only seventeen years old. At the time, she concentrated her efforts on the sole subject at hand, only later adding backgrounds and other life subjects into her paintings. Stone also favored sized paper, an uncommon practice at this time in British painting, and used exceedingly fine brush strokes, with brushes used for the lightest feathers likely containing only one or two hairs. Though unsigned and undated, it is likely that the current examples emanate from this early period of Stone's work, since the ducks are featured by themselves, and on sized, laid paper, and exhibit Stone's fine brushwork. In addition, the contemporary ink annotations along the top edge are in the same hand, though not Stone's hand, as other known ornithological examples of her work dated before 1790.
Whomever they belong to, the contemporary notations on Stone's work contain important information about each subject, including the name of each duck, in this case the "Buffel-headed Duck" and the male "King Duck." Following the name of each duck is a citation corresponding to John Latham's General Synopsis , published between 1781 and 1785. For example, the Buffle-headed duck carries the annotation "La. Syn. 6. p.533" which corresponds to Latham, Synopsis , volume six, page 533. A similar notation is found along the top edge of the King Eider duck. This is a practice peculiar to known examples of Stone's birds, since she and Latham were working from some of the same specimens in the Leverian Museum. Further, Latham specifies in his text for the General Synopsis that he used specimens from both his own extensive collection and that of his specimen-collecting rival, Ashton Lever. Each painting also displays an annotation in Latin along the top right edge, corresponding to the subject's Linnaean classification.
Interestingly, in 1781, Lever acquired thousands of natural history specimens from Captain Cook's third voyage. It is possible that these two paintings represent ducks collected by Cook's crew on the Northwest Coast of America.
"During the late 1770s and throughout the 1780s, Sarah painted at Ashton Lever's museum (or the Leverian Museum, as it came to be called) in Leicester House, Leicester Square, London. She may have asked permission to draw some object from this extraordinary collection of natural history specimens, ethnographical artefacts and other curiosities, and so came to the notice of their owner. Ashton Lever soon commissioned her to record the outstanding articles, both zoological and ethnographical, in his collection. Sarah signed her watercolors, and dated some of them, but the signed and dated watercolors are in the minority" - Jackson. Indeed, Lever held a high opinion of Stone's work, commenting in an advertisement for an exhibition of over 1,000 of Stone's watercolors at his museum in 1784 that Stone had "succeeded in the effort beyond all imagination."
Both of these paintings come from Credit Suisse's Americana Collection and were previously held by the Wall Street investment firm of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (acquired by Credit Suisse in August 2000). The paintings were likely acquired by Richard Jenrette at Sotheby Parke- Bernet Galleries in New York in April 1968, where Stone paintings of a Bufflehead and a King Eider were offered. In that sale, the King Eider duck achieved $350 by itself.
A stunning pair of paintings from an artist whose place of importance in the history of 18th-century ornithological studies is only beginning to be realized.
Jackson, Christine E. Sarah Stone. Natural Curiosities from the New Worlds . (London: Merrell Holberton and the Natural History Museum, London, 1998), pp.9-36;138.