SUBJECT: This drawing was initially thought to represent a North American grackle (quiscalus quiscula) due to its rich black color. Instead, the small flecks of white amongst its feathers and the dark brown legs identify this bird as a female Starling–one of just two European birds represented among the Drayton watercolors. However, one feature characteristic of the Starling is incorrectly represented here–the long black bill should actually be yellow. Eighteenth century ornithologists frequently worked from nonliving specimens and their drawings occasionally reflect this disadvantage. Drying the carcasses or preserving them in alcohols sometimes altered a specimen’s colors.
ARTIST: George Edwards (1697-1773) is remembered as the author of two of the most important ornithological studies of the eighteenth century: Natural History of Uncommon Birds (1743) and Gleanings of Natural History (1760). Edwards, along with Mark Catesby (1683-1749) served as fellows of the Royal Society and Edwards contributed to Catesby’s Natural History. Edwards also made copies of some of Catesby’s original drawings, or drew specimens that Catesby had sent from the New World to his colleagues back in London.
RELATED WORKS: The MESDA Collection has two Edwards watercolors of birds: a Starling (MESDA acc. 4763.1) and a Vireo (MESDA acc. 4763.2) as well as the manuscript frontis from the volume in which they were bound (MESDA acc. 5531)
DESCRIPTION: Watercolor on paper bearing the fleur-de-lis watermark of Villedary. The watercolor is of a black bird with white-gray flecks all over the body; brown eyes and black beak. The bird is perched on a small limb that is in the shape of an “L” with one small branch extending out with three green leaves and two slightly golden leaves. The branch and limbs are brown in color.