Some of the earliest known American illustrations of natural history are credited to Mark Catesby, an English naturalist who committed his life to documenting the natural world and pioneering the field of modern natural science in the 18th century.
His watercolors (many of them featured in our prints collection) still capture my imagination with their beauty. As an artist, his etching of birds and plants chronicled the diverse natural beauty of colonial America 100 years before Audubon. (It also turns out Catesby was quite resourceful — at first he was actually unable to afford an engraver… and self taught himself before presenting his first collection of illustrations to the Royal Society of London!). Catesby was the first naturalist to conduct a study of the lush and varied habitat of North America (we have an extensive collection of his botanical prints) and as a scientist, he was the first to empirically observe and recognize the natural and man-made dangers of species survival.
As both a scientist and an artist at the golden dawn of modern natural science, it’s astonishing how relevant and beautiful his illustrations still are today. Case in point— there is a gorgeous home in the Bahamas featured in House Beautiful’s December issue by interior designer Amanda Lindroth. Hanging above the sofa in the family’s living room is a collection of our Catesby prints — a Flamingo, Wood Pelican and Whooping Crane. Maybe just as Catesby saw them 500 years ago.