LEAR, Edward (1812-1888). Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots: the greater part of them species hitherto unfigured. London: E. Lear, [1830-] 1821.
Large 2° (545 x 365mm). Title, dedication, list of subscribers, list of plates, 42 fine hand-coloured lithographic plates by and after Lear. (Occasional light spotting or browning mostly to margins, title and first three letterpress leaves short and uncut at lower margin.) 19th-century half calf gilt, marbled boards (corners and spine slightly rubbed, small split to upper joint at foot).
FIRST EDITION OF LEAR'S RARE FIRST WORK, and the first English ornithological work published in folio format with lithographic plates. It is also the first English illustrated monograph on a single species of bird, and the only separate work on birds published by Lear. Lear later described his books as 'one which led to all Mr Gould's improvements'. It was originally intended to be issued in fourteen parts, but due to lack of finance, publication ceased after the twelfth and Gould bought all the remaining stock. It is a rare work and only 175 copies were printed, with Lear destroying the lithographic stones after the parts were published in order to protect his 125 subscribers.
Lear began this work at the age of eighteen and carefully supervised every step of the publication. He made many of his original sketches from the live specimens at the Regent's Park Zoological Gardens, and then prepared numerous preliminary lithographs. Many of these appear not to have satisfied him, for they were never published. The plates were printed by C. Hullmandel. Christine Jackson describes Lear's painstaking approach to his work: 'Lear worked in great detail, outlining every feather and filling in the details with fine lines. This scientific accuracy extended to every part of the bird, from the beak to the claws. He noted on the plate the scale of the bird as shown in relation to its life-size, whenever he had reduced it... The colouring was done with opaque watercolours with touches of egg-white for parts of the feathers requiring sheen, and for the eye, to add that 'life-touch' (Bird Illustrators: Some Artists in Early Lithography, London: 1975). The result combines 'the most exacting scientific naturalism with a masterly sense of design and intuitive sympathy for animal intelligence' (Susan Hyman, Edward Lear's Birds, London: 1980). Anker 283; Fine Bird Books 87; Nissen IVB 536; V. Noakes, Edward Lear 1812-1888, London: 1985, no.9c, p.83; Ray, The Illustrator and the Book 90; Wood 429; Zimmer pp.380-1.