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 John Gould  (1804 - 1881)

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Lived/Active: England/Australia      Known for: ornithology illustration-hummingbirds

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from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

John Gould was an English ornithologist and bird artist.  The Gould League in Australia was named after him.  His identification of the birds now nicknamed "Darwin's finches" played a role in the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.  Gould's work is referenced in Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species.

Gould was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, the son of a gardener, and the boy probably had a scanty education.  Shortly afterwards his father obtained a position on an estate near Guildford, Surrey, and then in 1818 became foreman in the Royal Gardens of Windsor.  He was for some time under the care of J T Aiton, of the Royal Gardens of Windsor.  The young Gould started training as a gardener, being employed under his father at Windsor from 1818 to 1824, and he was subsequently a gardener at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire.  He became an expert in the art of taxidermy, and in 1824 he set himself up in business in London as a taxidermist, and his skill led to him becoming the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London in 1827.

Gould's position brought him into contact with the country's leading naturalists, and also meant that he was often the first to see new collections of birds given to the Society.  In 1830 a collection of birds arrived from the Himalayas, many not previously described.  Gould published these birds in A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1830-1832).  The text was by Nicholas Aylward Vigors, and the illustrations were lithographed by Gould's wife Elizabeth, daughter of Nicholas Coxen of Kent.

This work was followed by four more in the next seven years including Birds of Europe in five volumes - completed in 1837, with the text written by Gould himself, edited by his clerk Edwin Prince.  Some of the illustrations were made by Edward Lear as part of his Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae in 1832.  Lear however was in financial difficulty, and he sold the entire set of lithographs to Gould.  The books were published in a very large size, imperial folio, with magnificent coloured plates.  Eventually 41 of these volumes were published with about 3000 plates.  They appeared in parts at £3 3s. a number, subscribed for in advance, and in spite of the heavy expense of preparing the plates, Gould succeeded in making his ventures pay and in realizing a fortune.  In 1838 he and his wife moved to Australia to work on the Birds of Australia and shortly after his return to England, his wife died in 1841.

When Charles Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens collected during the second voyage of HMS Beagle to the Geological Society of London at their meeting on 4 January 1837, the bird specimens were given to Gould for identification.  He set aside his paying work and at the next meeting on 10 January reported that birds from the Galįpagos Islands, which Darwin had thought were blackbirds, "gross-bills" and finches were in fact "a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar" as to form "an entirely new group, containing 12 species." This story made the newspapers.

In March, Darwin met Gould again, learning that his Galįpagos "wren" was another species of finch and the mockingbirds he had labeled by island were separate species rather than just varieties, with relatives on the South American mainland.  Subsequently Gould advised that the smaller southern Rhea specimen that had been rescued from a Christmas dinner was a separate species which he named Rhea darwinii, whose territory overlapped with the northern rheas.

Darwin had not bothered to label his finches by island, but others on the expedition had taken more care.  He now sought specimens collected by captain Robert FitzRoy and crewmen.  From them he was able to establish that the species were unique to islands, an important step on the inception of his theory of evolution by natural selection.  Gould's work on the birds was published between 1838 and 1842 in five numbers as Part 3 of Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, edited by Charles Darwin.

In 1838 the Goulds sailed to Australia intending to study the birds of that country and be the first to produce a major work on the subject.  They took with them the collector John Gilbert. They arrived in Tasmania in September, making the acquaintance of the governor Sir John Franklin and his wife.  Gould and Gilbert collected on the island.

In February 1839 Gould sailed to Sydney, leaving his pregnant wife with the Franklins.  He travelled to his brother-in-law's station at Yarrundi, spending his time searching for bowerbirds in the Liverpool Range.  In April he returned to Tasmania for the birth of his son.  In May he sailed to Adelaide to meet Charles Sturt, who was preparing to lead an expedition to the Murray River.  Gould collected in the Mount Lofty range, the Murray Scrubs and Kangaroo Island, returning again to Hobart in July. He then travelled with his wife to Yarrundi. They returned home to England in May 1840.

The result of the trip was The Birds of Australia (1840-1848).  It included a total of 600 plates in seven volumes, 328 of which were new to science and named by Gould.  He also published A Monograph of the Macropodidae, or Family of Kangaroos (1841-1842) and the three volume work The Mammals of Australia (1849-1861).

Elizabeth died in 1841, and Gould's books subsequently used illustrations by a number of artists, including Henry Constantine Richter, William Matthew Hart and Joseph Wolf.  Throughout his professional life Gould had a strong interest in hummingbirds.  He accumulated a collection of 320 species, which he exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Despite his interest Gould had never seen a live hummingbird.

In May 1857 he travelled to the United States with his second son Charles.  He arrived in New York too early in the season to see hummingbirds in that city, but on 21 May 1857 in Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia he finally saw his first live bird, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  He then continued to Washington D.C. where he saw large numbers in the gardens of the Capitol.  Gould attempted to return to England with live specimens, but not being aware of the conditions necessary to keep them they only lived for two months at most.

Gould published: A Monograph of the Trochilidae or Humming Birds with 360 plates (1849-61); The Mammals of Australia (1845-63), Handbook to the Birds of Australia (1865), The Birds of Asia (1850-83), The Birds of Great Britain (1862-73) and The Birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan Islands (1875-88).

A visit to Gould in his old age provided the inspiration for John Everett Millais' painting The Ruling Passion.

The Gould League, founded in Australia in 1909, was named after him. This organization gave many Australians their first introduction to birds, along with more general environmental and ecological education.  One of its major sponsors was the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, also known as Birds Australia.

In 1976 he was honoured on a postage stamp bearing his portrait issued by Australia Post [1].
His son Charles Gould was notable as geological surveyor.


Biography from The Cheryl Newby Gallery:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

John Gould was a prolific illustrator of ornithology and was noted for the beauty of his illustrations.  During his lifetime he was responsible for the illustration of over 2,200 different species of birds from around the world.

The work for which he is best known is his Monograph of the Trochilidae or the "Family of Hummingbirds", which was produced between 1849-1861.  Each hand-colored lithograph, many of which are highlighted with shimmering iridescence, presents the tiny jewel-like birds visiting lush flowers and foliage.

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