A Vibrant Ornithological Watercolor Depicting one of Costa Rica’s Most Beloved Species, the Quetzal
“IT’S FEATHERS HAVE MADE THE QUETZALOTOTL MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD’ (Hernandez)
Single sheet (22 4/8 x 15 inches). EXCEPTIONALLY FINE ORIGINAL WATERCOLOUR HEIGHTENED WITH GUM ARABIC on paper, inscribed in pencil upper left by Gould “Plant Barkeria Elegans”, and possibly “William Matthew Hart” (partially obscured), inscribed in a later hand in ink on a label on the verso of the original frame: 'Pharomacrus Mocinno (quezal). ("Monograph of the Trogonidae", by J.Gould F.R.S. Second Edition 1875 - first edition was published in 1838)’ (some minor browning to edges).
Provenance: John Gould F.R.S. (1804-1881)
“In the southern district of its range (Costa Rica and Veragua) these narrow-feathered birds are alone found; and upon this character chiefly the bird from those countries has been called by Dr. Cabanis Pharomacrus Costaricensis” (Gould).
Considered sacred to ancient Mesoamerican people, intensely plumed quetzals live in the mountains of Central America in regions with an elevation of 4,000 to 10,000 feet. At some point in time the species of Pharomachrus Mocinno were separated into a Northern and Southern species by the stretch of lowlands that covers parts of southern Guatemala, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica. The southern species Pharomachrus Mocinno Costaricensus differs from the northern species by its shorter, narrower tail plumes on the male.
Costa Rica is among the most favorable habitat for the quetzal. Its cloud forests and protected lands preserve the habitat for the birds and provide opportunities for ecotourists and eager bird watchers from around the globe. Specifically in the case of the Costa Rican quetzals, the creation of national parks has lead to the preservation and protection of the species, thereby slowing their rate of extinction significantly which differs greatly from its environment in the surrounding Central American countries.
As stated by Gould, “It is scarcely possible for the imagination to conceive anything more rich and gorgeous than the golden-green colour which adorns the principal part of the plumage of this splendid bird, or more elegant and graceful than the flowering plumes which sweep pendant from the lower part of the back, forming a long train of metallic brilliancy. Nature appears to have ordained that birds possessing unusual brilliancy of plumage should be inhabitants of retired and obscure situations; and in strict conformity with this law the Quezal, by far the most beautiful of its tribe, is to be found in the most dense and gloomy forests, remote from the haunts of civilized man, which may; perhaps, account for its being so little known to Europeans until within the last few years; for although the long plumes were used to adorn the head-dresses of the ancient Mexicans, and at a later period were transmitted by the Spaniards from time to time to Europe, yet it is only very recently that we have become acquainted with the entire bird” (Gould).
William Matthew Hart began working for Gould in the summer of 1851. He made the pattern plates (the master illustrations to be copied by the colouring workshop) for the humming birds and highlighted them with the metallic paints that make those plates so exquisite. He worked on ‘The Birds of Great Britain’ with H. C. Richter, and by 1870 was Gould's chief artist and lithographer, in addition to his continued work finishing the plates by hand. Following Gould's death in 1881, Hart was employed by Dr R. Bowdler-Sharpe to complete Gould's work on ‘The Birds of New Guinea’. Hart's most celebrated work was on the Birds of Paradise in ‘The Birds of New Guinea’ their extravagant colouring suited his tendency to overcolour. Maureen Lambourne “John Gould Birdman”, page 42.