LEWIN, William (1747-1795). The Birds of Great Britain, with their eggs, accurately figured. London: for the author, sold by Leigh and Sotheby, 1789-1794.
7 volumes, large 4° (325 x 255mm). 353 ORIGINAL BODYCOLOUR PAINTINGS ON VELLUM by William Lewin and John William Lewin, occasionally heightened with gum-arabic, 284 of birds, 69 of their eggs, each with pencil notation of bird and volume number on verso, drawings approximately 205 x 163mm, each inlaid to size on thick paper, on guards. (Some light discolouration and oxidisation to a few drawings, light surface soiling.) Green morocco gilt by J. Clarke, covers with ruled and elaborately tooled floral borders incorporating birds, spine gilt in seven compartments with raised bands, gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers, gilt edges.
A VERY FINE DE LUXE COPY WITH PAINTINGS ON VELLUM OF 'ONE OF THE RAREST OF ALL ENGLISH BIRD BOOKS', ONE OF 4 COPIES ISSUED. The edition of this work with the drawings on paper was limited to 60 sets, and although the standard bibliographies do not mention copies with the drawings on vellum, Lowndes notes 'on vellum, four copies known'. One other example of the vellum issue has appeared at auction in the last 25 years selling in June 1988 in the Jeanson sale at Sotheby's Monaco, and returning to auction in October 1995 at Christies London in the Fattorini Collection.
William Lewin was born in Stepney, London and in his twenties was making his living as a designer of textile patterns, but by his mid-thirties he was describing himself as a "painter". In the early or mid-1780s Lewin painted a few copies of the watercolour catalogue of the dowager Duchess of Portland's collection of birds' eggs. He spent the last part of his life devoted to the task of publishing and illustrating The Birds of Great Britain, although he had probably been preparing drawings from the 1770s, when he first saw Tunstall's collection of stuffed birds. His work on the eggs at the Portland collections and access to Sir Ashton Lever's museum gave him material from which to make his drawings, a task which he had anticipated would take 4 years. 10 years on, and with his health failing, he was still making his plans for the next edition of the Birds with engraved plates and, indeed, was busily arranging for the engraving. His sons Thomas and John William assisted in the painting of the birds for copies on paper and, as here, executed a few of the paintings on vellum. Both helped complete the final edition with engravings, published after his death, in 1801. The 4 copies with drawings on vellum were probably drawn up by William for presentation to his most favoured patrons. This copy has an exceptionally large number of watercolours, far exceeding the number of birds described, with the addition of bis drawings for many of the birds, usually illustrating the male or female partner with variant plummage, as well as several bis plates of the eggs, and an extra 6 watercolours bound after the text for the last plate, of which 4 are signed J W Lewin 1787, one signed J W Lewin. Many, unusually, have the backgrounds fully painted. Fine Bird Books p.91; Lowndes II, p.1351; Mullens & Swann pp.349-351; Nissen IVB 562; Jackson Bird Etchings pp.157-168. (7)