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Nicholas Rougeux Painstakingly Restores Hundreds of 19th-Century Hummingbird Illustrations
October 4, 2023
Chicago-based designer Nicholas Rougeux is fascinated by early encyclopedic publications, from a 17th-century Dutch manuscript dedicated to mixing watercolors to Palladio’s The Four Books of Architecture. Most recently, he took an interest in ornithologist John Gould’s A Monograph of the Trochilidæ, or Family of Humming-Birds.
Published between 1849 and 1861, the beautifully illustrated five-volume series contains 360 hand-colored lithographic plates made in collaboration with his assistant, Henry Constantine Richter. “The monograph is considered one of the finest examples of ornithological illustration ever produced, as well as a scientific masterpiece,” Rougeux says on the project’s website, which provides context about the original publication.
Gould’s wife, Elizabeth, was also an accomplished artist who captured the likenesses of more than 600 birds, many of which were new to science. Her role in her husband’s publications was rarely credited, but a forthcoming book aims to change that, celebrating Elizabeth’s nearly forgotten contribution to natural history.
Rougeux spent nearly 150 hours scanning and digitally restoring hundreds of full-color plates from the original 5 volumes and a supplement that was published after Gould’s death, between 1880 and 1887. Rogeux color-corrected each image and conceived of an interactive, 21st-century way to reproduce the comprehensive tome in its entirety, linking to archival scans, and organizing the illustrations in the order they appeared in the original texts. Visitors to the site can deep-dive into every scientific detail captured in the original publication.
Taking the artworks one step further, Rougeux extracted 422 hummingbirds and arranged them into a dramatic poster, which you can purchase on the project site. See more of the designer’s work on his website, Behance, and Instagram.
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