EDE, Basil (British, b. 1931). Great Horned Owl. Watercolor and gouache. 1975-77. 33 x 24 1/4 inches. Signed lower left: "Basil Ede."
Great Horned Owl is a magnificent portrait by twentieth century's most consummate ornithological painter, Basil Ede. Not since John James Audubon has an artist so successfully crafted such elegantly sophisticated and beautifully animated compositions of birds in their natural environments, and this striking watercolor of two great horned owls is a prime example of Ede’s mastery of the genre.
The artist here presents two great horned owls perched upon a sturdy, moss-covered branch which seems within reaching distance from the viewer’s close proximity. Amidst a dramatically suggestive blue-green and rust-colored background, the birds’ penetrating yellow stare, emanating from within reddish-brown faces crowned with their iconic ear tufts, becomes all the more intense, and they glare onto the viewer as if to assert their power. The artist wisely chooses to present the birds’ large, thick bodies both in full-face and at a slight angle so as to provide ample room to display their beautifully patterned gray-brown plumage. Almost painstakingly, Ede diligently renders each feather with tremendous attention to detail and mastery of his medium; for example, across the broad expanse of the owl to the right, the artist gently pulsates yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and raw umber atop an ivory base and then applies long, wispy brushstrokes to evoke the stiff softness of the feathers’ vanes, while a thicker brush loaded with whites and grays is used to render the fluffy plumage that bedecks the throat. This remarkable texture extends to the long, sleek talons whose sharp points dig into incredibly naturalistic bark, reminding the viewer of the splendid strength of this grand predator. The impressionistic setting is also wonderfully fitting as this quintessential, storybook owl is common in North America and equally at home in deserts, wetlands, forests, grasslands, backyards, cities, and practically any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the tropics. The great horned owl is king and Ede has created a truly majestic work befitting its grandeur.
Ede was born in Surrey, England, in 1931. In this countryside town, the artist developed a love for nature, and it is here that he received his first instruction in natural history drawing. Like Audubon and Mark Catesby before him, Ede traveled extensively during his life, and his travels were formative to his art. Perhaps most significantly, at 25 he traveled to Far East Asia as a ship's purser and was introduced to Oriental Art, a style that would come to deeply influence his own. His artistic career quickly took off: in 1958, Ede began exhibiting at Tryon Gallery, the first specialist wildlife gallery in London; in 1964, he exhibited at the Smithsonian's Collection of Fine Arts. The institution had never before sponsored a show for a living artist. The following year, Ede published his multi-edition Birds of Town and Village, which contained 36 plates of birds. In 1979, Jack W. Warner, CEO of Gulf Paper States Paper Corporation in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, commissioned Ede to produce a series of paintings documenting every living North American bird; it took Ede more than a decade to complete the project. Ede's works have also been featured at a number of New York City galleries, and have been sponsored by the British Embassy, the Audubon Society, and the World Wild Life Fund. He is currently a member of the Society of Wild Life Artists.
Nearing 76 years of age, Ede has no doubt succeeded in breathing new life into a classic subject, raising the bar ever higher for twentieth-century bird painting. Perhaps Carl W. Buchheister, President Emeritus of the National Audubon Society, has summed up Ede's remarkable talent best: in a preface to the 1981 book, Basil Ede's Birds, Buchheister wrote: "Technical ability is, to be sure, essential for the artist, but to impart lifelike qualities and personality to one's subjects requires the abilities of the true master…This can be acquired only from long hours in the field, in an intimate study of the living bird…Every Ede painting gives eloquent manifestation of such knowledge and understanding."
Description provided by Julia Stimac, a specialist in 19th-century art. Julia received her BA from Cornell University and MA from the University of Manchester, and she is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Washington. Please contact Julia at 212-628-7625 to arrange a viewing of this work, or visit Arader Galleries at 1016 Madison Avenue, New York.