LEWIN, Thomas (1774 - after 1840). An album of original bird drawings, drawn and painted from nature by Thomas Lewin. London: 1825-1831.
Small folio (431 x 325mm). 143 original drawings (two folding) in watercolour and body colour occasionally with pencil sketching still visible, on paper, all but four signed by Lewin ("by Ths Lewin" or "D[rawn] & P[ainted] by Ths Lewin") on rectos, including 10 dated between 1825 and 1829, and all but ten drawings with pencilled identifications signed and dated 1825-31 on verso (Drawn and Painted from Nature Correct in Size Colours and all Honors, or a variation thereof), most drawings against a blue wash background, nine drawings with painted background and within black ruled frame, later pencilled foliation of all leaves and protective blanks at versos of lower corners. Paper marked "J Whatman" with dates 1825, 1827-1830, "Turkey Mill 1826", one marked "JC & McM 1814" with Wales crest, and one double marked "J Whatman 1825" and "C. Wilmot 1825", 7 of the earliest drawings dated 1825-26 on slightly shorter leaves (4 drawings with light mottling of paper). Contemporary tan morocco gilt, sides with wide fillet border and strapwork panel design, flat spine with gilt strapwork, turn-ins elaborately gilt with wide roll-tooled border, green moire-patterned paper liners and endleaves, gilt edges (some slight scuffing), possibly by John Mackenzie. Provenance: description of the volume dated 1832 on front flyleaf: "A Collection of 143 original Drawings of Birds by Lewin -- coloured from nature and most beautifully executed".
A FINE ALBUM OF BIRD PAINTINGS BY THOMAS LEWIN, THE LARGEST KNOWN COLLECTION OF HIS DRAWINGS. Thomas Lewin was one of a family of bird artists who worked at the highest level. His father, William Lewin, published The Birds of Great Britain, with their Eggs, accurately figured (1795-1801), in which Thomas's first signed work appeared; his brother, John William Lewin, published Birds of New Holland (1804-08), to which Thomas contributed the preface; and another brother, William Thomas, painted with his father an album of bird eggs at the Portland Museum before 1786 for the Dowager Duchess of Portland. The Lewins as a family are remarkable for the emphasis they placed on original drawings, and William Lewin is "unique in using original watercolors to illustrate his book on British birds" (Jackson, Bird Etchings, 159), painting the 323 illustrations for each of the 60 subscriber copies. William Lewin and his sons had access to the major natural history cabinets and collections of the time, including those of Sir Ashton Lever (and later when owned by James Parkinson), Marmaduke Tunstall, and Dr. John Latham, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Portland.
All but four of the present drawings are characteristically signed on the recto, and all but ten are inscribed at length in pencil on the verso, not only stating "Drawn and Painted from Nature Correct in Size Colours and all Honours" (or similar), but also with identifications. According to Lewin's idenfications, the birds come from China, Africa, India, Turkey, Java, Australia, the Philippines, etc., and include many rare specimens with a large number identified as from South America, Brazil and the Americas; Lewin seemed particularly keen to identify birds as coming from "Creek" [Indian] America. Lewin certainly worked from specimens held in a number of collections, but he may also have painted from living birds. The inscriptions are mostly dated between 1826 to 1831 and signed London, Hackney, Hackney Fields, and Hoxton. These place-names may suggest his own residence or the location of an aviary or natural history cabinet where Lewin painted.
Only two other collections of original drawings by Thomas Lewin are known to exist, and the present collection of 143 bird paintings is the largest by far. The Hardwicke drawings in the Natural History Museum, London, contain 75 Lewin bird watercolours, only some of which are identified or dated (usually 1834-35), and a private English collection contains an album of 60 watercolours, most of which have idenfications similar to the present album, and are dated 1821-28. Two drawings by Thomas Lewin are also in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, and a further two are in the Blacker-Wood Library, McGill University, Montreal. We are grateful to Christine Jackson for providing us with detailed information on the Lewin family and the location of other Lewin drawings.