Extremely rare set of 3 originally hand-colored hornbill lithographs. These highly accurate and beautifully observed plates were published over 150 years ago in London.
These folio lithographs are from Daniel Giraud Elliot's "A Monograph of the Bucerotidae, or Family of the Hornbills". The work was published in New York by Taylor & Francis of London between 1877 and 1882. The originally hand-colored lithographs were printed by M. & N. Hanhart. John Gerard Keulemans composed the plates and they were hand-colored by Mr. Smith.
These lithographs are from the first edition of this "comprehensive treatment of the entire family of hornbills" (Zimmer) from one of the best-known American ornithologists of the second half of the nineteenth century, with illustrations by Keulemans, the most popular ornithological artist of the period.
This is an important first monograph on this widely scattered family of extraordinary birds. "The Bucerotidae are pretty equally divided at the present day between the Ethiopian and Oriental Regions, the first having twenty-seven and the latter twenty-nine species, while but a few... are scattered about the islands of the Malay archipelago".
Hornbills are extraordinary not only for their physical appearance but also for their behavior - the most noteworthy shared trait amongst the species is the male's habit of "enclosing the female in the hollow of some tree, firmly fastening her in by a wall of mud, and keeping her close prisoner until the eggs are hatched" (introduction). The male will feed the female through a slit in the wall whilst she incubates the eggs. She will only break through the wall of mud and leave the nest once the young have hatched, at which point the wall is rebuilt and remains in place until the young are ready to fly.
The bizarre beauty of this species is here ably captured by Keulemans highly accurate and beautifully observed plates. Keulemans was born in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1842, but worked and lived chiefly in England, working on most of the important ornithological monographs and periodicals published between about 1870 and his death in London in 1912. He was "undoubtedly the most popular bird artist of his day as well as being the most prolific. He was gifted with a superb sense of draughtsmanship and revealed his considerable versatility in capturing the significant subtleties of color, form, and expression in the birds... represented in his various illustrations"
(Ref. Feathers to brush p. 47)