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Mark Catesby (1682-1749)

Bison Americanus and Pseudo Acacia c.1722-6

Watercolour and gouache heightened with gum arabic, over graphite; plant outlines in brush and watercolour over graphite | 26.9 x 37.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 926092

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  • A watercolour of an American bison (Bison bison Linaeus), set against a slight sketch of bristly locust (Robinia hispida L.).

    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.

    In Catesby’s day vast herds of bison, the largest land animal in America, roamed the prairies. The bison was brought near to extinction by the end of the nineteenth century as a result of farming and hunting. The species was saved by a small number of private individuals with managed herds.

    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 gouache heightened with gum arabic, over graphite; plant outlines in brush and watercolour over graphite


    26.9 x 37.2 cm (sheet of paper)

  • Other number(s)
    Alternative title(s)

    Bison Americanus and Pseudo Acacia hifpida floribus roseis

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