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Mark Catesby (1682-1749)

The Summer Red-Bird and the Western Plane-Tree c.1722-6

Watercolour and bodycolour heightened with gum arabic, and pen and ink | 38.5 x 26.5 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 925891

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  • A watercolour of a summer tanager (Piranga rubra (Linnaeus) on American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis L.). The drawing shows a bright red bird perched on a branch of wide, bright green serrated leaves and a round, brown fruit. The bird is looking up, profile left.

    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.

    The watercolour was used as the basis for plate 56 in the first volume of the Natural History ('The Summer Red-Bird' and 'The Western Plane-Tree').

    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 and bodycolour heightened with gum arabic, and pen and ink


    38.5 x 26.5 cm (sheet of paper)

  • Other number(s)