John Lewin
'Reed warbler' 1805
Purchased 1996

John Lewin, a natural-history illustrator, arrived in New South Wales from England in 1801, the first professional artist to come to the new colony as a free settler. His illustrations of the exotic bird life are recognised as some of the most significant in colonial art.

Lewin's Birds of New South Wales was the first non-government book published in the colony. He finished the plates for the book between 1803 and 1805, and a small edition was printed and published in England in 1807. The copy held by the Gallery is one of only thirteen books known to have been produced in the Sydney edition of 1813, made up of early proofs produced in 1803 and hand-coloured by the artist.

Lewin's distinctive style of closely cropped and often asymmetrical compositions, combined with his naively unscientific yet poetic texts, has ensured the book's place in Australian visual history. It is one of the most important and beautiful colonial publications.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

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