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Mark Catesby

In the early eighteenth century the English naturalist Mark Catesby made two extended expeditions to the British colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America in order to document the indigenous flora and fauna. His resulting work, the first on its su

The Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands : containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects and plants : particularly, the forest-trees, shrubs, and other plants... ; v. 1 / by Mark Catesby ©

The English naturalist Mark Catesby (1682-1749) compiled the first comprehensive survey of the flora and fauna of south-eastern North America (then part of the British colonies). He made two extended visits to the region, to Virginia 1712-19 and to Carolina and Florida 1722-26. He also travelled to the West Indies, visiting Jamaica in 1714 and the Bahama Islands in 1725.

When Catesby returned to England he began work on his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, which was published in parts between 1729 and 1747 and eventually comprised 220 illustrations with accompanying descriptions. The watercolours displayed in this section are Catesby’s original studies for the plates of the book. Believing that ‘artistic’ techniques of shading and perspective compromised objective truth, Catesby used instead what he termed ‘a Flat, tho’ exact manner’ to make a precise visual record of each creature and plant.

Catesby’s original watercolours for the Natural History were purchased by George III in 1768.