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The Kanguroo

  • Object:

    Wood-Engraving Print

  • Place of origin:

    Newcastle upon Tyne (printed and published)

  • Date:

    1790 (first published)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bewick, Thomas, born 1753 - died 1828 (engravers (printmakers))
    Stubbs, George A.R.A., born 1724 - died 1806 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood-engraving print on laid paper

  • Museum number:

    CIRC.531-1964

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level E, case Z, shelf 2, box B

Physical description

A kangaroo viewed almost in profile, its body facing to the left of the image, with its head turned to the right of the image. The background is of a woodland environment.

Place of Origin

Newcastle upon Tyne (printed and published)

Date

1790 (first published)

Artist/maker

Bewick, Thomas, born 1753 - died 1828 (engravers (printmakers))
Stubbs, George A.R.A., born 1724 - died 1806 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Wood-engraving print on laid paper

Dimensions

Height: 16 cm of sheet, Width: 17-17.6 cm of sheet

Object history note

Formerly 'C' numbers 8980-8982 and 8998; a list showing both and old in 64/2371

This engraving features in Thomas Bewick's first major independent publication, A General History of Quadrupeds, first printed and published in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1790. The publication contains illustrations of animals, alongside brief descriptions of their appearance, habits and habitats, accompanied by a number of illustrative vignettes, used mainly as tailpieces.

Historical significance: Thomas Bewick was the first engraver to exploit fully the advantages of end-grain wood (the wood is cut across, rather than along, the grain). Once it had been proved that the technique could rival the fine effects of metal engraving, the advantages of wood engraving to the book trade were quickly recognised. Allowing both text and illustration to be printed in one operation, it ousted the intaglio process as the favourite for book illustration and was only superseded at the end of the nineteenth century when methods of photomechanical reproduction were developed.

Historical context note

Des Cowley and Brian Hubber (2000) have described how George Stubbs's depiction of a kangaroo came to be used by Bewick:

'The first printed illustration of a kangaroo,9 from Hawkesworth's account of Cook's first voyage, was engraved after a painting by the noted British animal painter George Stubbs, and is often referred to as Stubbs's Kangaroo [Fig. 1]. It was Banks who commissioned Stubbs to paint the animal, and the finished work was exhibited with the title ‘The Kongouro [sic] from New Holland, 1770’ at the Society of Artists in London in 1773.10 John Hunter, a British anatomist and friend of Stubbs, remarked that, ‘Of the kangaroo the only parts at first brought home were some skins and skulls’. The inventory of the Endeavour's store upon returning to England in 1771 included two kangaroo skins and two skulls. It can be assumed that Stubbs worked from a stuffed or blown-up skin — there were certainly no living kangaroos brought back from the voyage. The general mutilation of the skin possibly accounts for several mistakes Stubbs made — misrepresenting the kangaroo's hind feet and making its ears too big. Given the little he had to work with (the two rough sketches made by the artist on the voyage, Sydney Parkinson, are believed to have been unavailable to him at the time), it is a surprisingly good likeness.11 Stubbs's kangaroo was to make a second appearance in 1773, in the Gentlemen's Magazine, which carried a brief description of this strange new animal, describing it as ‘a new species never yet described’.

With the publication of these images, the kangaroo had entered the European popular imagination. Even James Boswell, the biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson, recorded how during a trip to Scotland Johnson performed for his friends his own imitation of this extraordinary new animal. Boswell records:
He stood erect, put out his hands like feelers, and, gathering up the tails of his huge brown coat so as to resemble the pouch of the animal, made two or three vigorous bounds across the room.12

Stubbs's kangaroo, once unleashed upon the public, proved itself to be a surprisingly resilient creature. It continued to appear in a multitude of works, such as Thomas Pennant's History of Quadrupeds (1781) and Thomas Bewick's A General History of Quadrupeds (5th edn, 1807). Moreover, it was also to be found on mass-produced Staffordshire pottery (c1800), an example of which is to be found in the Australian National Gallery.13 For almost 20 years, it was the only image of a kangaroo in circulation, and even after new information and depictions of the kangaroo emerged out of the English settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788, Stubbs's kangaroo, more often than not, remained the kangaroo of preference for English publishers.'

Taken from: Cowley, Des and Hubber, Brian. Distinct Creation : Early European Images of Australian Animals. The La Trobe Journal. Spring 2000. No 66.
http://www3.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-66/t1-g-t2.html
Accessed: 29/11/2010

Descriptive line

'The Kanguroo'. A kangaroo viewed almost in profile, against a background of woodland. Wood-engraving print on laid paper. Illustration featured in 'A General History of Quadrupeds' (first published 1790). Engraved by Thomas Bewick, probably after George Stubbs. Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Taken from Departmental Circulation Register 1964

Production Note

Thomas Bewick's A General History of Quadrupeds was first published in 1790.
See the Historical Context Note Field for details relating to the attribution of George Stubbs as the original artist.

Materials

Laid paper; Printing ink

Techniques

Wood-engraving (process)

Subjects depicted

Kangaroos; Woodland

Categories

Prints; Illustration; Animals and Wildlife

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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