Artefact of the month - December 2007
Caspian snow partridge, by Joseph Wolf. c1865
This watercolour painting of 'Caspian snow partridge' with goldfinches has been selected as the December artefact for its seasonal, snowy, appeal.
The painting is signed by the artist Joseph Wolf and measures 23 x 373 cm. The painting is in a sealed window mount and linen guarded in an album of watercolours by Wolf. The image was printed as a lithograph in Zoological Sketches by Joseph Wolf made for the Zoological Society of London, from animals in their Vivarium, in the Regent’s Park, edited with notes by Philip Lutley Sclater, Secretary to the Society, published in 1861.
The Caspian snow partridge, is now more commonly referred to as the Caspian snowcock, Tetraogallus caspius. Sclater states that ZSL's first specimen of this species was received in 1842 as a present from E.W. Bonham, of H.M. Consular Service. It was obtained in the vicinity of Teheran. They were 'found in the higher regions of Asia Minor and Persia'.
According to John Gould in Birds of Asia, 'This species builds on the highest summits of the rocky mountains of the Caucasus, preferring all together the snowy regions, which it never quits; … it runs along the rocks and the ledges of the precipices with great agility… It lives in societies of from six to ten individuals, becoming the inseparable companion to the Goat, on the excrement of which it feeds during the winter months.'
Joseph Wolf (1820-1899) was born in Germany into a farming family where he acquired his lifelong love of wildlife. He trained as an artist and lithographer. His magnificent paintings of birds of prey in life size for H. Schlegel and A.H. Verster van Wulverhorst’s famous book Traité de Fauconnerie (1844-53) sealed Wolf’s reputation on the Continent but there were greater opportunities for natural history artists in England. Wolf did not hesitate when he was encouraged to come to London in 1848 by D.W. Mitchell to share with him the illustration of G.R. Gray’s Genera of birds (1844-49). Mitchell was also the Secretary of ZSL and wanted an accurate artistic record of its newly acquired and attractive animals. Wolf got that commission too, the start of a life-long association with the Society. In 1848 the Society’s scientific journal, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (PZS) was published with colour illustrations for the first time. Over the next 30 years Wolf produced 340 colour plates for the Proceedings which were some of the most attractive ever published in it.
The Michael Marks Trust has provided funding for the cataloguing of the artworks in ZSL's collections. An online catalogue to the artworks can be searched at ZSL Library Catalogue , use the `Search artworks’ button on the sidebar.
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