The twenty engravings offered are, in chronological order, as follows: Plate 1; Bawded Ophisurus, Plate 4; Spinola’s Trachipterus, Plate 5; Halgans Spine-Tailed Ray, Plate 7; Oriental Dactylopterus, Plate 8; Common Flying Fish, Plate 9; Horned Zanclus or Chaetodon, Plate 11; Back’s Grayling, Plate 12; Edible Lethrynus, Plate 13; Mailed Peristedion, Plate 14; Armed Monocentris, Plate 15; Spotted Osracion, Plate 18; Blainvilles Piked Dog Fish, Plate 19; Yellow-Bellied Acanthurus, Plate 20; Port Praslin Balistes, Plate 23; Atlantic Coryphaene or Dolphin, Plate 24; Dolphin of the Ancients, Plate 27; White Shark, Plate 28; Cirrated Sawn-Fish, Plate 29; Common Sword-Fish, Plate 30; Indian Histiophorus.
William Home Lizars (1788-1859) was an eminent Scottish engraver and painter of topographical views, decorative and historical subjects. His natural history engravings rank among the finest of first half of the nineteenth century. With his training at the Trustee’s Academy of Edinburgh, Lizars quickly gained a strong reputation for his graphic work in all fields. From 1820, however, he concentrated almost solely upon the field for which he is best remembered, natural history subjects. Whether his work is in the field of delicate miniature engravings, such as this example, or in his large plates for Audubon’s Birds of America, his reputation as one of the finest naturalist engravers in the history of the art stands unchallenged.
His father was a publisher and an engraver and after this death, Lizars inherited the business from him. Lizars was first apprenticed to his father, from whom he learnt engraving, and then entered as a student under John Graham in the Trustees’ Academy at Edinburgh, where he was a fellow-student with Sir David Wilkie. Lizars perfected a method of etching which performed the functions of wood-engraving, for illustration of books. From 1808 to 1815, Lizars was a frequent exhibitor of portraits, and of sacred and domestic subjects, at exhibitions in Edinburgh. In 1812 he sent two pictures to the Royal Academy in London, Reading the Will and A Scotch Wedding. They were admired, were hung on the line, and were engraved. They went to the National Gallery of Scotland at Edinburgh.
One of the finest and most thorough studies of natural history in the nineteenth century fell under the direction of Sir William Jardine. As editor of the Naturalists Library, Jardine commissioned experts throughout Europe to write individual volumes on their fields of animal studies. Between 1833 and 1842 a total of forty superb volumes were published on fish, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this nine-year undertaking was that each book contained at least thirty splendid engravings by W. H. Lizars. These engravings, some introducing newly discovered species, others portraying now extinct animals, have for well over a century and a half been considered to be among the finest pictorial representations of their kind. The engravings were always coloured by artists before publication.
A beautiful group of engravings with an authentic country house feel, their appeal as a collective is as good a shoal as you are likely to find.