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Take 5 bird artists

For National Bird Week (18-24 October), we’re shining a spotlight on five bird artists from the collection.


Jabiru watercolour drawing, attributed to J.W. Lewin, c 1800-1819
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John Lewin

Australia’s first free professional artist, John William Lewin, emigrated from England to Australia in 1800. He was also Australia’s first printmaker and the first person to publish an illustrated book in the colony, Birds of New South Wales (1813). This watercolour drawing of a jabiru is attributed to Lewin.

Black cockatoo, by Neville Cayley, 1894
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Neville Cayley

Ornithologist and illustrator Neville Henry Peniston Cayley was known for his meticulous and popular watercolours of iconic Australian birds. His son Neville William Cayley followed in his father’s footsteps, publishing Australia’s first comprehensive field guide to birds, What Bird is That?, in 1931. Neville Cayley snr painted this watercolour of black cockatoos in 1894.

Parrot, attributed to Louisa Atkinson, c 1849-1872
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Louisa Atkinson

This watercolour drawing of a parrot is part of a large collection of natural history illustrations at the Library attributed to Louisa Atkinson. Home-schooled and then privately educated in the NSW colony, Atkinson became a keen naturalist and self-taught artist. Her mother, Charlotte Barton, is credited with writing Australia’s first children’s book, A Mother’s Offering to Her Children (1841). At 23, Atkinson became the first Australian-born woman to have a novel published in Australia, Gertrude, the Emigrant (1857).


Small paraquet, by Sarah Stone, c 1790
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Sarah Stone

English natural history illustrator and painter Sarah Stone produced some of the earliest European images of Australian birds, including this watercolour of a small paraquet (now known as the little lorikeet). Stone painted from reconstructed specimens brought back to England. Engravings based on her original work feature in John White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (1790) and other books from the period.

Azure Kingfisher (Alcyone azurea), by William T. Cooper, February 1951
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William T Cooper

After beginning his career in Newcastle as a self-taught landscape and seascape artist, William T Cooper became internationally recognised for his natural history illustrations. He preferred drawing birds from life rather than photographs, tracking species like the azure kingfisher shown here (1951) in their natural habitats. 

Compiled by Maria Savvidis, Librarian.

This story appears in SL Magazine winter 2020