As he did not write or illustrate any books directly it is difficult to find any examples of his work. The only publication to bear his name was The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia, whose primary author was James Edward Smith. This being a book on butterflies and moths it is thin on bird illustrations! Abbot was a supplier of illustrations for other authors. The earliest set of his bird illustrations was completed in 1791 and sent to his agent in London, Francillon. These paintings were the first of many hundreds to be bought by private collectors and by the authors of ornithological works. Abbot’s paintings are among the earliest representations of the birds of North America. He is considered a pioneer of American ornithology and in 1809 he met the American ornithologist Alexander Wilson (1766-1831). Wilson, the ‘father of American ornithology’, had come to America from Scotland, and had embarked on a nine volume work, American Ornithology (1808-13). Abbot provided Wilson with many illustrations for his books.
In 1997 Beehive press published a book of some of Abbot’s bird plates called John Abbot’s Birds of Georgia: Selected Drawings from the Houghton Library, Harvard University. It’s not cheap…if you can find a copy. A good read is Pamela Gilbert’s: John Abbot: Birds, Butterflies and Other Wonders, (NHM 1998).
The species’ names used by Abbot for his illustrations were often very different to those in common usage today. Test yourself! What are the species in the following Abbot paintings now known as?
White or Red-Billed Curlew
His illustrations are considered by many to be fine and realistic renditions. But, again I find them to be flat and a little wooden. They all lack any detailed background or foliage, with birds perched on a twig or log. Some of the colouring looks a little childish as though he had used some bits of crayon