Skip to main content
Item #40591 Common Turtle. Sarah STONE.

STONE, Sarah (1761-1844)

Common Turtle

London: (ca. 1777-1806). Watercolour on laid paper. Signed "Sarah Stone," bottom left corner. Annotated, "La. Syn. 4 p.644...Columba Turtur, Lyn." along the top edge. Sheet size: 9 3/4 x 10 3/8 inches.

A fine watercolour of the beloved Turtle Dove by one of the most important British natural history illustrators.

Sarah Stone was a prolific natural history painter who was active in London from 1777 to 1806, known for her exquisite brushwork, adept use of color, and mastery across a diverse array of subjects. Her primary patron was Sir Ashton Lever, for whom she diligently documented an extensive collection of ornithological, zoological, and ethnographical specimens. Ornithological subjects held a special place in Stone's oeuvre, constituting the majority of her known works, with her initial studies dating back to 1777 when she was just seventeen. Stone's meticulous attention to detail is evident in her preference for sized paper, an unconventional practice in British painting at the time, and her use of exceptionally fine brush strokes, sometimes employing brushes with only one or two hairs for the lightest feathers. Her association with the Leverian Museum, which changed ownership in 1786, persisted through the 1780s under James Parkinson. Stone's reputation soared, leading to her pivotal role in illustrating John White's Journal of a Voyage to NSW (1790), establishing her as one of the era's premier natural history painters. Despite limited records after her marriage in 1789, evidence suggests that Stone continued to contribute to prestigious projects, including bespoke artworks for affluent private collectors. Her work is celebrated today for its grace, precision, and significant contributions to the understanding of 18th-century natural history. The contemporary notations on Stone's ornithological drawings contain important information about each subject. The annotations, in many cases, include a citation corresponding to the volume and page number in John Latham's General Synopsis (published between 1781 and 1785) as well as a citation in Latin, corresponding to the subject's Linnaean classification at the time. In this image, the "Common Turtle" appears with the annotation, "La. Syn. 4 p.644...Columba Turtur." Now known as the European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur), the migratory species travels across most of Europe and the Middle East, including Turkey and North Africa. The Turtle Dove has a long history in European culture. According to Roman author Aelian, the bird was sacred to Demeter. Perhaps because of Biblical references, its mournful voice, and the fact that it forms strong pair bonds, European Turtle Doves have become emblems of devoted love. In Renaissance Europe, the bird played a symbolic role as the dedicated companion of the Phoenix. Robert Chester's poem, "Love's Martyr" is an allegory about this symbolism. Chester's poem was published alongside Shakespeare's "The Phoenix and the Turtle," where "turtle" refers to the Turtle Dove, whose association with love and devotion continued to manifest in folksongs and hymns.

Christine E. Jackson Dictionary of Bird Painters (Woodbridge: 1999); Christine E. Jackson Sarah Stone Natural Curiosities from the New Worlds (London, 1998).

Item #40591

Price: $15,000.00

See all items by Sarah STONE