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Splendid Species: Gould's Birds of Australia

Margot Riley
The Library is delighted to announce the complete digitisation of its renowned "pattern" set of 681 folio-sized plates for 'The Birds of Australia' 

The interweaving of art, science and printing  reached a pinnacle in the creation of  The Birds of Australia (1840-1848). Its beautiful hand-coloured plates are regarded as among the finest examples of bird illustration ever published. 

The Library holds a number of copies of The Birds of Australia including an edition in the 36 parts as issued to subscribers.  The Library has recently digitised its most precious copy. This copy of The Birds of Australia is unique in the world as it is made up of the preliminary hand-coloured, lithographed plates before the printed titles were added. These “patterns” - or key plates - were used as prototypes to guide the army of colourists employed by ornithologist and publisher John Gould to transfer the hand-painted details onto the printed illustrations for the 250 copies of the seven-volume series in the original edition.

These lithographed patterns were printed on hard paper and are soiled and scuffed by paintbrush marks from repeated consultation and referencing; many include manuscript instructions for the colourists. Preparation of 84 of the key plates for the illustrations for The Birds of Australia was undertaken by Elizabeth Gould, who selected the pigments and brush sizes the colourists would use to replicate the hand-painted detail from the patterns onto the hundreds of copy prints.

 

The Birds of Australia

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