Gould, John (1804-1881)


John Gould (1804-1881)
A selection from: A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans
Hand-colored lithographs; 33” x 26” framed
London, 1852-54


John Gould was the leading publisher of ornithological illustrations in Victorian Britain. The ‘bird man,’ as he liked to be called, had been “enamored with nature, and her charming attitudes” at an early age. This romantic enthusiasm combined with scientific and artistic skills and a forceful entrepreneurial personality, led him to produce a total of almost 3,000 hand-colored lithographs. Gould collected the scientific information and drew many of the rough sketches himself. These were then passed on for completion to skilled illustrators: at first, his wife Elizabeth and Edward Lear; and later such artist as Henry Richter, William Hart, and Joseph Wolf. The plates which resulted were a splendid fusion of art and science whose range is still unsurpassed.


The dazzling illustrations from Gould's monograph on the toucans are generally thought to represent his most dramatic, magnificent images. Gould recognized that toucans represent perhaps the most inherently stunning of all birds, and combined his passions for accuracy and beauty to create the most lavish images ever devoted to the subject of ornithology. The artist recognized that it would be impossible to embellish a bird as striking as a toucan, and he simply portrayed them as they were in life. The amazing range of vivid colors-shiny black, vibrant red, yellow, and orange creates an unprecedented sense of animation. Shown against fairly simple backgrounds, the birds seem to emerge, large and engaging, from the page. Gould's toucans appear as living creatures, not two-dimensional representations.


The inspiration for the Toucans came while Gould was working on his Birds of Europe, when he became fascinated by a collection of toucans owned by a fellow ornithologist. He made several trips to Central European museums to gather material for the Toucans, and after the first edition was published, Gould redrew some of the plates and added 20 new birds for this, the revised and expanded second edition.