Georgian Embossed Pictures of Samuel Dixon and His Followers
Samuel Dixon of Dublin (d. 1769) was made famous by his sets of embossed flower and bird pictures. The pictures incorporate a technique, which Dixon had apparently invented and dubbed basso relievo, whereby parts of the design are raised by means of a copper plate and then colored in gouache. Dixon's first basso relievo set of twelve formal flower arrangements was advertised on the 26th April 1748 in 'Faulkner's Dublin Journal'. This article invited the 'Nobility and Gentry' to purchase these pictures which were 'not only ornamental in Lady's chambers but useful to paint and draw after or imitate in shell or needle work.' Two pictures from this first set are being offered as part of lot 147. These very popular 'Flower Pictures' encouraged Dixon to produce a 'Sett of curious Foreign Bird Pieces' in 1750. The designs for these pictures were taken directly from the first volumes of George Edwards' Natural History of Uncommon Birds, 1743-51, as were the descriptive labels on the back of each picture. The labels also indicated a member of nobility to whom each design was dedicated. In 1755, Dixon produced his 'Foreign and Domestick Birds' - or large bird - set, which carried a dedication on the back of each picture to twelve influential patronesses, and again borrowed heavily from Edwards' Natural History (see lots 147, 148 and 149).
The great popularity of Dixon's embossed pictures inevitably spawned imitators. Two of the most faithful and important followers were Isaac Spackman (d. 1771) and William Hayes (d. 1799), both of whom were British. Spackman, as did Dixon before him, meticulously borrowed from Edwards for his sets of embossed bird pictures produced in 1754, 1764 and circa 1769. So close and careful a follower was Spackman that he, in certain instances, portrayed the very same birds as his predecessor. As Edwards' volumes were so vast, it is thought that any duplication was indeed intentional. Spackman's distinctive style can be identified by his very careful detailing of the birds and abbreviated and simplistic rendering of background details (see lots 150 and 151). William Hayes is a character about whom relatively little is known other than the fact that he was an artist and ornithologist. Hayes drew his inspiration from his own published work Natural History of British Birds as well as rendering from life in the "Menagerie" at Osterley Park. Stylistically his distinguishing characteristics are exaggerated depth of relief and also the use of glass bead eyes (see lot 147).
For further reading see A.K. Longfield, "Samuel Dixon's Embossed Pictures of Flowers and Birds, Irish Georgian Society Bulletin, Issue 4, vol. 18, 1975 pp. 109-136, A.K. Longfield, "More About Samuel Dixon and His Imitators, Irish Georgian Society Bulletin, Issues 1 & 2, vol. 23, 1980, pp. 1-32 and A.K. Longfield, "To Paint a Mockingbird: Identifying Spackman's Embossed Bird Pictures", Country Life, 25 January 1979, pp. 196-197.