Monday, November 5, 2012

Authors and Illustrators of Bird Books. Pt V: James Bolton

Missell Bird from Bolton's Harmonia Ruralis 1794 - 1796
Until just a few days ago I had never heard of this bloke. I was browsing the net looking for some images of birds by a German artist called Blumenbach when I came across an art gallery's comments about the exquisite and 'mouth-watering' illustrations of James Bolton. Who? So I did a bit of checking around and discovered that he was responsible for the book 'HARMONIA RURALIS; OR, AN ESSAY TOWARDS A NATURAL HISTORY OF BRITISH SONG BIRDS.' You know the one!
Bolton was a Yorkshireman, born in Warley in 1735 he died in Warley in 1799. He was a weaver then an art teacher and later he became a publican. All of his life was spent in and around the Halifax area and he and his brother were both involved in the study of the local fauna and flora and especially fungi. Bolton's initial work was illustrating works on flowers before he illustrated and published a work on ferns. He was particularly interested in mycology and he collected and catalogued fungi specimens from around halifax. The result was the publication of the first English-language work devoted to fungi, Bolton's three-volume An History of Fungusses growing about Halifax, published 1788-1790, with a supplement in 1791. Fungusses...brilliant.
The most interesting and unusual aspect of Harmonia Ruralis is the approach. There is an illustration of each species dealt with followed by an illustration of the nest and eggs. The illustrations are hand-coloured engravings and are really difficult to come across. There were eighty, forty in each of the two volumes of the work.
The two images above are typical examples. The Hedge Sparrow spooked by a giant magpie moth and above is the Hedge Sparrow's nest and eggs. The forty plates of nests and eggs all show a lack of scientific accuracy, in fact you could be forgiven for thinking it's the same nest, with different coloured eggs copied forty times. The birds are a bit 'samey' too but there is an unmistakable beauty to the plates; if you can find any!
Here we have the plates for Red-headed Linnet and the sparrow's nest has been plonked, precariously, into some twigs at the end of a branch. All the birds and nests were drawn from life and Bolton's own observations were to be found in the text. If he drew all of the nests from life I can't quite see how he got the following Northern Wheater's nest:
 Wheatears nest in crevices and burrows - this looks suspiciously like that Hedge Sparrow's nest again.
I have managed to gather together 60 of the plates in colour and all 80 without colour by trawling the net. These illustrations are still popular and turn up on tea-towels, coasters and mugs but I'd like to bet it proves difficult to locate any.

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