Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Authors and Illustrators of Bird Books. Pt II: Eleazar Albin

Although Eleazar  has been described as one of the “great entomological book illustrators of the 18th century”  he produced a couple of fine bird books as well as a book on esculent fish. Yes I had to check ‘esculent’ in the dictionary. It means fit to be eaten. That’ll be edible then! He was born in 1690 or thereabouts, possibly in Germany or thereabouts and died in 1742…or thereabouts! For certain he was living in Piccadilly, London in 1708 and he is known to have been married. According to Wikipedia that’s enough to make him English.  Between the years 1731 -1738 he published ‘A Natural History Of The Birds With 306 Copper Plates, Curiously Engraven From Life. And Exactly Colour’d By The Author, Eleazar Albin. To Which Are Added, Notes And Observations By W Derham’.  Published in London as three 4to volumes which did, indeed, contain 306 hand-coloured engravings by Eleazar and his daughter, Elizabeth. Most engravings are signed by one or the other and there are some terrific ones amongst them. There were 101 in volume 1 although I have only been able to find copies with 92 plates – which is a bit odd. Volume 2 had 104 plates and the final 101 plates were in volume 3. These three volumes constitute the earliest coloured book on British Birds even though many of the birds are not British

Recurvirostra avosetta imlorum by Elizabeth Albin. A Plate from Volume 1


The Hoop or Hoopoe Hen taken from Volume 2

Brambling from Volume 3 By Eleazar Albin
Albin was a water-colourist and he taught water colour painting as he tells us himself in the preface to ‘Natural History of Insects’  In the preface to Vol 1 of ‘The Natural History of Birds’  he also adds that he taught his daughter to ‘draw and paint after the life’ and the illustrations are stated upon the title-page to have been carefully coloured by his daughter and himself. I read somewhere that Albin’s pictures were heavily criticised for being lifeless and flat and I can see why that is the case. Yet I quite like these engravings; they are of their time. My main objection is that all the birds look thoroughly startled!
1737 saw the publication of the single 12mo volume of ‘A Natural History of English Song-Birds, And Such Of The Foreign As Are Usually Brought Over And Esteem’d For Their Singing. To Which Are Added, Figures Of The Cock, Hen And Egg Of Each Species, Exactly Copied From Nature, By Eleazar Albin, And Curiously Engraven In Copper. Also A Particular Account How To Order The Canary-Birds In Breeding: Likewise Their Diseases And Cure.’  I’ve read shorter novels than this title!
Although it had a massive title it was a small book containing just 23 hand-coloured engravings. I’ve not been able to find any coloured plates but there must be some available for viewing on the internet. To get a flavour of these engravings here are a couple uncoloured.

All 23 of the plates look like these. Note again the Albin trademark startled expression on these birds. Perhaps the birds and eggs are drawn to scale!
Other famous natural history books by Albin are: ‘A Natural History of English Insects’, 1720. ‘A Natural History of Spiders and Other Curious Insects’, 1736. (Written when a spider was a curious insect) and, of course, ‘A History of Esculent Fish’, 1794 – that’s edible you know!

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