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Mark Catesby (1682-1749)

The Parrot of Carolina and the Cypress of America c.1722-6

Watercolour, bodycolour and pen and ink | 26.6 x 37.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 924824

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  • A watercolour of a Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis (Linnaeus)) on a branch of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum (L.) L. C. Rich). The bird is shown with dark green plumage and a gold and orange head perched on a branch, profile left. Detail of some of the leaves and cones of the tree have been delicately painted in. An individual seed is sketched towards the bottom. Inscribed in ink: (bottom centre) 'Cupressus Americana Park 1476.'; (top centre) 'Small Parrot  Psittacus Caroliniensis'; (top right) '11'. The reference is to John Parkinson's Theatrum Botanicum (Theatre of Plants) of 1640.

    Mark Catesby was born in Suffolk and was interested in natural history from an early age. In 1712, he travelled to the east coast of America with his sister Elizabeth, who had married a doctor who practised in Williamsburg, Virginia. Catesby spent seven years in Virginia collecting specimens and seeds for London buyers before returning to Britain. In London his drawings of birds and plants met with praise and a group of benefactors paid for his travel to Carolina in 1722. There, he made numerous drawings of the flora and fauna, working hard to ensure that his depictions were as helpful for an understanding of their subjects as possible. On his return to Britain, his drawings were reproduced in The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, which appeared in a series of volumes between 1729 and 1747. The first volume was dedicated to Queen Caroline, the second to Augusta, Princess of Wales. The original drawings from the volumes, which had been in the possession of Catesby’s widow until her death, were purchased by George III from the London bookseller Thomas Cadell in 1768.

    This watercolour was used as the basis for plate 11 in the first volume of the Natural History ('The Parrot of Carolina' and 'The Cypress of America'). Catesby noted of the parakeets that 'They feed on Seeds and Kernels of Fruit; particularly those of Cypress and Apples. The Orchards in Autumn are visited by numerous flights of them; where they make great destruction for their Kernels only: for the same purpose they frequent Virginia; which is the furthest North I ever heard they have been seen'. 

    For identification of the species depicted see James L. Reveal, ‘Identification of the plants and animals illustrated by Mark Catesby for his Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands’ in Phytoneuron 2013 and revised online version.



    Thomas Cadell; from whom bought by George III, 1768

  • Medium and techniques

    Watercolour, bodycolour and pen and ink


    26.6 x 37.2 cm (sheet of paper)

  • Other number(s)
    Alternative title(s)

    Psittacus Caroliniensis

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