The reverse of the picture is interesting but the pencil inscription is barely legible; “Pica Erythrorhyncha 2/3 copied from a …??… August 1832”. Although we can’t read the entire inscription it is certain that this work was copied directly from the illustration by Gould entitled ‘Pica Erythrorhyncha’, taken from ‘A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains’, 1830-32, by John Gould (1804-81) in 1831, and was painted one year later in 1832 by a very capable hand.
The red-billed blue magpie occurs in a broad swathe from the northern parts of the Indian Subcontinent, and further eastwards. It ranges from the Western Himalayas eastwards into Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in evergreen forest and scrub in predominantly hilly or mountainous country. They nest in trees and large shrubs in a relatively shallow nest. There are usually three to five eggs laid.
John Gould’s name has been noted in history as a preeminent English ornithologist and publisher of 19th illustrated bird books. When re-counting his accomplishments however credit must be given to the artists who worked with him, especially his wife Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841). Legend tells of Elizabeth and John meeting in the Aviary of the London Zoo, where she working as a governess was on an outing with her young charge. However they met, they were married in 1829. Elizabeth was 24 years old. Isabella Tree in her biography of John Gould states:
Elizabeth Gould combined motherhood and career in a way that must have been exhausting. In twelve years she completed over 600 illustrations and gave birth to eight children, two of whom died. Although essentially self taught she worked with and learned from Edward Lear. In 1838 her husband convinced her reluctantly to leave their children in the care of her mother and travel to Australia to work on a monograph of Australian birds, a corner of the world that held rich possibility in yet undocumented bird species.
A superb period picture of distinct talent and by, quite possibly a direct colleague, or certainly a close follower of Elizabeth Gould herself.