John Gould was without question the most prolific ornithological artist of the 19th century, and the only one to rival John James Audubon in ambition and quality.
The 19th century was a time of intense fascination with discoveries in natural history; especially regarding knowledge of the wildlife of exotic lands.Gould shared the romantic enthusiasm of his time for such subjects as well as the popular impulse to catalogue.He combined his passion for natural history with outstanding scientific, artistic and entrepreneurial talents.
Drawing on these abilities, he embarked on a series of projects that would eventually make him the leading publisher of ornithological illustrations in Victorian Britain. Gould's unparalleled career spanned five decades and he produced a monumental series of books of birds throughout the world.
From the time he took up taxidermy in his early teens, Gould was devoted to recording bird life, either as he observed it personally or as it was reported to him by other ornithologists. He procured the scientific information through extensive correspondence, travel and field research.
The preparatory drawings that he produced were passed on for completion to skilled illustrators, most notably his wife, Elizabeth, and Edward Lear.The plates which resulted from such partnerships were a splendid fusion of art and science, with a scope that remains unsurpassed. Stunning and at the same time highly accurate, Gould's illustrations linked beauty to science and science to beauty in an unprecedented manner. Three of the most noted and rare publications are The Birds of Europe, A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans, and A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds.