The latest Reed Gallery exhibition opens on Friday 12 May, 2023

The year 2023 marks 150 years since the publication of the first edition of Walter Lawry Buller’s masterpiece A history of the birds of New Zealand, copiously illustrated with the hand-coloured lithographs of the Dutch-born, London-based artist J.G. Keulemans.

Prior to Buller’s monumental work, certain birds had been sketched and painted by scientists and draughtsmen who accompanied the early European explorers who visited New Zealand’s shores. However, it was the 1873 publication of Buller’s Birds that introduced overseas readers to New Zealand’s extraordinary bird fauna, while also encouraging New Zealanders to appreciate them in a new light.

The latest Reed Gallery exhibition For the Love of Birds: the artistic depiction and classification of New Zealand birds showcases a selection of books featuring artistic depictions of New Zealand birds from the nineteenth to the early twenty-first century.

A key feature is a comprehensive run of the significant editions of Buller’s Birds, from the rare first edition of 1873, the enlarged second edition of 1888, and the Supplement of 1905, to the subsequent Whitcombe & Tombs (1967), and Te Papa (2012) facsimile editions.

The eight-volume large folio edition of British ornithologist John Gould’s Birds of Australia predates Buller. Although the author did not visit New Zealand, his immense work featured a number of vivid lithographs of New Zealand birds, selections of which are included in this exhibition in a facsimile edition.

Rather than an art-for-art’s-sake approach, the displays highlight the close interplay between art and science, specifically that of taxonomy. A selection of key 20th century illustrated bird identification guides are included, alongside some early published bird lists and taxonomic works by Victorian-era scientists including Buller, F.W. Hutton, and George R. Gray.

The intention nonetheless is to present a visual feast of published books featuring avian art by notable 20th and early 21st century artists including Lily Daff, Elaine Power, Molly Falla, Mollie Miller Atkinson, Bruce Harvey, Raymond Ching, Paul Martinson, Don Binney and Derek Onley.

The exhibited books form part of the Robert McNab Collection and are housed in the Dunedin Public Library’s Heritage Collections.

Reed Gallery, 3rd Floor, Dunedin City Library

12 May - 27 August 2023