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Mark Catesby (1682-1749)

The Great Hog Fish c.1722-6

Watercolour and bodycolour | 26.3 x 37.8 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 925959

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  • A watercolour of a hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus (Walbaum)). The drawing shows the front half of the fish, profile left, with its large jaws open.

    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.

    Catesby deferred his study of fish until he visited the Bahamas, expecting to find a greater variety of exotic species in tropical waters. He was not disappointed and wrote: ‘tho’ I had been often told they were very remarkable, yet I was surprised to find how lavishly Nature had adorn’d them with Marks and Colours most admirable’. He shows only part of the great hogfish because the tail had been cut from his model. Nonetheless, Catesby claimed that this specimen was between three and four feet long.

    The watercolour was used as the basis for plate 15 in the second volume of the Natural History.

    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


    26.3 x 37.8 cm (sheet of paper)

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