Fine original watercolour and gouache painting (20 x 15 inches, matted and framed) of birds of the Auk family, preliminary artwork for plate 3 in Edward Howe Forbush's book "Birds of Massachusetts and other New England States", 1925.
Provenance: Sotheby's Sale, November 17, 1978, lot 541
A dramatic scene showing members of the Auk family perched on a rock, possibly off Machias Seal Island, off the eastern-most part of the Maine coast, and floating in the surrounding surf, and including a Black Guillemot, a Puffin, a Razor-billed Auk, Brunnich's Murre and a Dovekie. The final composition was eventually published as plate 3 in Forbush's "Birds of Massachusetts and other New England States". Forbush describes the birds between pages 31 and 46 of the first volume of his book.
Louis Agassiz Fuertes was the most widely acclaimed American ornithological artist of his time. Born in Ithaca, New York, Fuertes began drawing birds at an early age, inspired by Audubon's "Birds of America." By the time he was seventeen, his illustrations had qualified him as an associate member of the American Ornithologists' Union. Fuertes quickly became associated with leading ornithological scientists and artists, and he received professional commissions while still an undergraduate at Cornell.
Fuertes went on to produce a vast body of work for an extremely broad range of projects. His paintings and drawings invariably convey the artist's extremely careful study of his subjects' form and behavior, and his diligence, precision and skill in draftsmanship produced some of the most animated and engaging bird illustrations of the twentieth century. Fuertes was determined to study and draw birds as they behaved in their natural habitats, unlike his predecessors, including Audubon, who took the easier route of drawing from stuffed specimens. As a result of this scrupulous and sensitive study of living birds, his works are characterized by a much greater accuracy and sense of vitality. Perhaps more than any of the other great bird artists, Fuertes' birds are always full of life. In the book "A Celebration of Birds: The Life and Art of Louis Agassiz Fuertes," the noted specialist on ornithological art Roger Tory Peterson notes that even today "most bird painters are still influenced directly or indirectly by Fuertes..."
Fuertes traveled widely to broaden his knowledge of birds and their habitats. In 1899, for example, he accompanied the Harriman Expedition to Alaska, a group that traveled up the coast as far as Plover Bay in Siberia. Sponsored by the railroad and mining magnate Edward Harriman, the elaborately outfitted expedition included well-know scientists such as John Burroughs and John Muir, landscape artists Frederick Dellenbaugh and Robert Swain Gifford, and photographer Edward Curtis.
By that time, Fuertes was widely acclaimed himself, his illustrations having been disseminated in a number of publications. Yet his original watercolors, the most compelling testaments to the unparalleled abilities of this great bird artist, are quite rare.