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  David Morrisson Reid-Henry. "White-tailed Sea Eagle," c. 1960.
Reid-Henry, Sea Eagle
David Morrison Reid-Henry. “White-tailed Sea Eagle,” n. d. (c. 1960). Opaque watercolor and gouache on board. Image size: 10 3/8 x 14 1/2". Frame size: 19 3/4 x 24". Signed by artist in l. r.: D M Henry. Beautiful archival presentation in 19th-century frame. Fine.

One of the most celebrated of twentieth-century natural history painters, David Reid-Henry had a profound knowledge of birds of prey, as well as a highly evolved talent for creating detailed and engaging bird paintings. He was essentially self-taught, except for occasional tutorials from his father, also a wildlife artist, on the fine art of drawing birds. As a young boy in England, he had no binoculars, relying instead on fieldcraft to approach birds closely and on memory and field sketches as the basis for his paintings.

Following a tour of duty in the British military during World War II, he soon gained a solid reputation as an illustrator of books on wildlife, specializing in bird pictures. As his skills continued to develop, especially in the latter years of his short life (he died at 58), “he made few field sketches,” according to Nicholas Hammond. “Instead, he relied on his power to concentrate on the subject—he would spend hours watching through binoculars, taking his feel of his surroundings as well as the details. He had a photographic memory, which enabled him to return to base, recall what he had seen and commit it to paper in a series of sketches . . . . Detail was most important to Reid-Henry and for this reason he preferred working in opaque colours, oils, gouache or tempera, rather than watercolour.”

Reid-Henry’s style was fresh, and his facility at the meticulous rendering of both animals and their surroundings is evident in the gouache-and-watercolor painting offered here. A sea eagle clutching his dead Mallard prey triumphantly perches on a rocky outcropping overlooking a dramatic seascape. An intriguing scene of avian interaction emerges from a geologically precise setting: a crow sitting on a ledge scolds the eagle, as seagulls encircle rugged coastal rocks below. The detail is breathtaking, but it is Reid-Henry’s talent at painting “birds that really lived” that makes his art, according to Hammond, “most unusual among the work of wildlife artists.”

A superb, well-developed dry brush portrait of a beautiful sea eagle by one of the masters of wildlife painting.

Ref.: Nicholas Hammond, Twentieth-Century Wildlife Artists (Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1986), pp. 101–102.

Copyright 2003, William R. Talbot