A series of very rare prints of exotic bird species from the Osterley Menagerie in London. The first edition, Rare and Curious Birds...in the Menagerie at Osterly Park, London, 1794-99, was the first published systematic record of a single private collection of live birds. Robert and Sarah Child, the owners of Osterley at that time, commissioned William Hayes to write and illustrate this work. A second edition, credited to “the late William Hayes, of Southall,” was posthumously “published for the benefit of his family.” We are uncertain which edition our prints are from, possibly both—as the paper size varies slightly—about ½ inch difference.
For the most part, the prints from these series depict a broad spectrum of birds, including species native to Great Britain and Europe, as well as exotic tropical birds such as parrots, macaws and parakeets. Among the other birds illustrated are birds of prey such as the white jer-falcon and Virginian eared owl and wading birds such as cranes, spoonbills and ducks. The renderings are distinctly 18th century in conception and style, resembling other prints and watercolors of the period, isolating each bird against the page, generally perched on a branch with a small patch of ground below. The proportions are accurate, though the details are somewhat simplified and stylized, and the color tends to be high-key.
Osterley (the present-day spelling) is a manor house surrounded by a large park in West London, dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Throughout most of the 18th century, it was occupied by members of the Child family, who made their fortune in banking. According to Britain’s National Trust: “In the late 18th century, the park's main attraction was its menagerie by the North Lake. This contained a host of rare and unusual birds, supplemented by a number of colourful pleasure boats.” By the early 19th century, the house was no longer a main residence, and for the most part, remained uninhabited until it was donated to the National Trust in the 1940s. Evidently, at the time of the publication of the second edition in 1817, the menagerie was defunct.
William Hayes was a British illustrator best known for A Natural History of British Birds (1775) and Rare and Curious Birds Accurately Drawn and Colored from Their Specimens in the Menagerie at Osterly Park (1794-99). A self-taught artist, Hayes worked from live specimens he kept in captivity, as well as birds from the collection of one of his patrons, the Duchess of Portland. Like Audubon, Hayes depicted birds at life size whenever possible. He engaged no fewer than seven of his children in printing, coloring and assembling volumes, and at least some of his bird illustrations were drawn by other members of his large family. As orders for copies of his books were received, available prints were assembled in what has been described as "a production line of unrivalled chaos," so that the actual contents received by a given subscriber varied.
[Reference: Nissen, Claus. Illustrated Bird Books]