The Old Print Gallery has an extensive collection of hummingbird prints by John Gould. John Gould (1804- 1881) was an English ornithologist and bird artist. The son of a gardener, Gould worked at the Royal Gardens of Windsor, the Ripley Castle at Yorkshire, which granted him the experience and knowledge to become the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society in London in 1827. This job kept Gould in contact with the foremost naturalists of the time, including Charles Darwin.
Gould assisted Darwin in identifying the birds found on Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos Islands. His assistance helped Darwin recognize that the birds seen were a species unique to the island, a fact crucial to the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Gould’s work in identifying the Galapagos finches was published in 1838-42, in Part Three of Zoology of the Voyage of the H. M. S. Beagle, edited by Darwin.
From 1832 to 1881, Gould travelled the world seeking new specimens, often writing the scientific texts himself. Gould created the largest and most spectacular body of bird prints in the 19th century. His volumes, containing hundreds of hand-colored lithographs, covered species from the Himalayas to New Guinea. All were issued in large-folio format, enabling Gould to show each bird’s appearance in detail, usually in its natural habitat. He oversaw every phase of his operation, from securing and drawing specimens to soliciting subscriptions. Other artists who assisted him had substantial reputations of their own. They include his wife Elizabeth Gould, Edward Lear, Henry C. Richter, Josef Wolf and William Hart.
Throughout his professional life, Gould had a strong interest in hummingbirds. He accumulated a print collection of 320 species, which he exhibited in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Gould’s hummingbird prints are highly prized for their lavish botanical backgrounds and the iridescent paints often used. A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds was published in London, in 1849. The book contained 360 plates of hand colored lithographs and was printed until 1861. Below is a selection of the hummingbird prints we offer, although we have many more in the gallery than what is posted here. We invite you to visit the gallery to see these handsome prints in person. You can also see some of our Gould prints on our website here.