The life and art of the 18th-century naturalist Mark Catesby, and his pioneering work depicting the flora and fauna of North America, are explored in vibrant detail
This book explores the life and work of the celebrated eighteenth-century English naturalist, explorer, artist and author Mark Catesby (1683–1749). During Catesby’s lifetime, science was poised to shift from a world of amateur virtuosi to one of professional experts. Working against a backdrop of global travel that incorporated collecting and direct observation of nature, Catesby spent two prolonged periods in the New World – in Virginia (1712–19) and South Carolina and the Bahamas (1722–6). In his majestic two-volume Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731–43), esteemed by his contemporary John Bartram as ‘an ornament for the finest library in the world’, he reflected the excitement, drama and beauty of the natural world. Interweaving elements of art history, history of science, natural history illustration, painting materials, book history, paper studies, garden history and colonial history, this meticulously researched volume brings together a wealth of unpublished images as well as newly discovered letters by Catesby, which, with their first-hand accounts of his collecting and encounters in the wild, bring the story of this extraordinary pioneer naturalist vividly to life.
Distributed for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
Henrietta McBurney is a freelance curator and art historian. She was previously curator in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. Her publications include studies on the florilegium of Alexander Marshal and the natural history drawings for Cassiano dal Pozzo’s Paper Museum.
“In the early eighteenth century, Mark Catesby, an amateur naturalist from East Anglia, vividly documented the flora and fauna of America from the tiniest ‘tumble-turd’ beetle to the flowering umbrella tree. His watercolours, beautifully reproduced (often in full-size plates) speak of an early modern world in which distinctions between amateur and professional, art and science were decidedly blurry.”—Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times, “Books of the Year: Art”
“[The] definitive study of Catesby’s life and art. . . . Gorgeous. . . . Accessible. . . . Ms. McBurney’s book perfectly matches its multifaceted subject, offering us nothing less than a natural history of Catesby’s remarkable imagination.”—Christoph Irmscher, Wall Street Journal
“Interweaving elements of art history, history of science, natural history illustration, painting materials, book history, paper studies, garden history and colonial history, Henrietta's meticulously researched volume shines new light on the role of art and the artist in the exploration of the natural world.”—Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter
“This is an exemplary monograph in every sense, adding both personal insight and a discerning eye to the growing body of works on Catesby . . . including many individual contributions, all carefully referenced. It forms a fitting monument to a major figure in eighteenth-century natural history, now very firmly delineated.”—Arthur MacGregor, Journal of the History of Collections
“Shedding new light on the role of art and the artist in exploring the natural world, this richly illustrated book explores the life and work of the celebrated eighteenth-century English artist, naturalist and author who travelled the world collecting specimens and observing nature.”—Artmag
“This celebration of the life and work of Mark Catesby, an eighteenth-century artist, explorer and naturalist, is packed full of stunning watercolours that bring the natural world to life.”—The Arts Society
“McBurney’s book is a tribute to Catesby’s determination and endurance. Taking the reader on a journey through Catesby’s identity in chapters titled ‘Naturalist’, ‘Artist’ and ‘Horticulturalist,’ McBurney offers a multifaceted examination of an extraordinary man filled with perennial wonder at the world, continually discovering the beauties it has to offer.”—Almanac
“A joy to read and a visual delight. Perhaps the most exciting chapter, helped by the superb reproductions, concerns Catesby’s development as an artist.”—Jenny Uglow, Times Literary Supplement
“A beautiful new book.”—House & Garden
“It is precisely this mixture of art and science, anthropology and personal experience, and documentation and commentary that makes this book—just like Catesby’s own publication—such a treasure.”—Anna McNay, Art Quarterly
“[B]eautifully designed and laid out. . . . Burney’s meticulously researched volume brings together a wealth of unpublished images as well as newly discovered letters by Catesby, which, with their first-hand accounts of his collecting and encounters in the wild, bring the story of this extraordinary pioneer naturalist vividly to life.”—Peter Bower, The Quarterly
“This well-researched book by a historian is a fascinating read, and it reproduces well many of Catesby’s paintings and other illustrations about his life. I’m sure that it will turn out to be the definitive study of this great and versatile naturalist and artist Mark Catesby.”—Ghillean Prance PPLS, The Linnean
“Meticulously researched and sumptuously illustrated. . . . McBurney wears her scholarship lightly, but it shines through on every page. Far from the shadowy figure of earlier biographies, Catesby emerges as a multifaceted man of his times. This account of his life and achievements is unlikely to be equalled.”—John Edgington, Garden History
Winner of the 2023 SHNH Natural History Book Prize
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