This embossed bird picture depicts a Secretary Bird (Falconiformes Sagittariidae) so called because its crest of long plumes resemble a bunch of quill pens stuck behind the ear of an old-time lawyer's clerk. Native to Africa, the Secretary Bird is well-known as a snake-killer, but also preys on other reptiles, small mammals, large insects and young birds and eggs. They are believed to mate for life.
The bankers Francis (d. 1763) and Robert Child (d. 1782) established a remarkable menagerie of rare birds at Osterley Park, Middlesex in the mid-18th Century. Lady Beauchamp-Proctor on her visit in 1772, considered it, 'The prettiest place I ever saw, 'tis an absolute retreat, & fill'd with all sorts of curious and scarce Birds and Fowles, among the rest 2 numidian Cranes that follow like Dogs, and a pair of Chinese teal that have only been seen in England before upon the India [Chinese] paper'. Two cranes were already visible in a watercolour of the menagerie grounds executed in 1757 by Anthony Devis (J. Hardy and M. Tomlin, Osterley Park, London, 1985, p. 105). Robert's widow, Sarah Child, later employed William Hayes, artist and ornithologist to execute portraits of the birds, which were hung in the parlour at the Menagerie. In 1794, Hayes published two illustrated volumes on the rare species of birds in this famous aviary, entitled Portraits of Rare and Curious Birds, from the Menagerie of Osterley Park.
Another picture by Hayes, this time of a crane and from the same collection as this lot, was sold by the Earl and Countess of Perth, in these Rooms, 18 April 1996, lot 49. This was signed and inscribed 'In the Menagerie of Robert Child Wm Hayes' and on the reverse of the picture 'Robt. Child Esq. Berkeley Square', suggesting that the picture itself belonged to Robert Child, as well as the bird it depicts. The present lot has the same 18th 19th Century frame maker's label, which leads to the possibility that it too was once owned by Robert Child.