Birds in art - Alexander Wilson drawings
Alexander Wilson, ‘Plate 36: Bald Eagle,’ from American Ornithology; or The Natural History of the Birds of the United States, Vol. 4. Hand-colored etching and engraving with letterpress, 1811. 10 3/8 x 13 3/4 in. (26.4 x 35 cm). Toledo Museum of Art, Mrs. George W. Stevens Fund, 2014.15d

Before Audubon: Alexander Wilson’s Birds of the United States
Through July 15, 2018
Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio
toledomuseum.org

Before John James Audubon published his famous Birds of America (1827-1838), the Scottish-born Alexander Wilson — known as the “Father of American Ornithology” — laid out much of the groundwork with his American Ornithology; or The Natural History of the Birds of the United States series, which he began publishing in 1808.

Birds in art - Alexander Wilson drawings
Alexander Wilson, ‘Plate 29: Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker’ from American Ornithology; or The Natural History of the Birds of the United States, Vol. 4. Hand-colored etching and engravings, 1811. 13 3/4 x 10 3/8 in. (35 x 26.4 cm). Toledo Museum of Art, Mrs. George W. Stevens Fund, 2014.15d

Though Wilson had no background as an artist, he taught himself to draw accurate illustrations for the 76 hand-colored engraved and etched plates in his nine volumes of careful observations of the birds of the eastern United States — 314 species in all, 26 of which he was the first to identify. Five of these new species are now named for him.

Many of the birds represented in the exhibition can be seen during the spring migration that occurs in the region, including colorful warblers and other songbirds, ducks, and shorebirds.

Birds in art - Alexander Wilson drawings
Alexander Wilson (American, born Scotland, 1766-1813), ‘Plate 44: Passenger Pigeon, “Blue-mountain Warbler,” Blackburnian Warbler,’ from American Ornithology; or The Natural History of the Birds of the United States, Vol. 5. Hand-colored etching and engraving with letterpress, 1812. 10 3/8 x 13 3/4 in. (26.4 x 35 cm). Toledo Museum of Art, Mrs. George W. Stevens Fund, 2014.15e

“The prints are not only beautifully produced with vibrant hand coloring, but they are also historically important as the first attempt at a comprehensive natural history study of American birds,” said Paula’s Reich, the Museum’s head of interpretive projects and managing editor. “It’s also the first major scientific study published in the country.”

Birds in art - Alexander Wilson drawings
Alexander Wilson, ‘Plate 50: Great-Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Meadow Vole, Red Bat, “Small-headed Flycatcher,” Northern Hawk Owl,’ from American Ornithology; or The Natural History of the Birds of the United States, Vol. 6. Hand-colored etching and engraving with letterpress, 1812. 13 3/4 x 10 3/8 in. (35 x 26.4 cm). Toledo Museum of Art, Mrs. George W. Stevens Fund, 2014.15f

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