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2008 Catalog > 32. Ede, Gambel's Quail


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Technical ability is, to be sure, essential to the artist, but to impart lifelike qualities and personality to one’s subjects requires the abilities of the true master. This can be acquired only from long hours in the field, in an intimate study of the living bird. Every Ede painting gives eloquent manifestation of such knowledge and understanding.”
—Carl W. Buchheister, preface to Basil Ede’s Birds

32. Basil Ede. “Gambel’s Quail—Callipepla gambelii,” 1988. Watercolor and gouache on thick gray paper. Sheet size: 17 1/2 x 15 1/2". Signed, dated, and titled in ink at l. r. In handsome original presentation folder, handmade by the artist; signed and titled on cover. Fine.

Price: SOLD [ Order ]

This original watercolor-and-gouache painting of a pair of Gambel’s quails demonstrates the remarkable artistic abilities of Basil Ede (b. 1931), perhaps the most important ornithological artist of the twentieth century. Ede traveled the world to observe birds in their habitats, taking photographs and making sketches of them in the wild. His primary medium is watercolor and he develops each image in a painstaking process that results in a highly finished bird portrait capturing every feathery detail and nuance of color with amazing precision.

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In the work offered here, male and female quails perch upon a shattered tree stump near the edge of a dry streambed against a brilliant azure sky. The birds exhibit an innate liveliness, especially the female, whom Ede catches in the motion of turning her head. Ede’s extraordinarily detailed renderings of both ornithological and landscape elements blend masterfully into a naturalistic whole. Ede once remarked that he conceived his bird portraits in terms of the personality of the species as expressed in “the movement of the body” and “deployment of feathers.” The present work conveys the perky and alert personality of these fast-running dwellers of the southwestern desert.

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Ede was born in Surrey, England, and as a child delighted in the wildlife of the surrounding countryside. During these years, he received informal instruction in wildlife drawing from an artist with the local zoological society. Ede turned to painting in the early 1950s while working as a ship’s purser for the Orient Steam Navigation Company. He traveled frequently to the Far East, where he became enamored of the bird-and-flower paintings of traditional Chinese and Japanese art, an influence that is perceptible in his early work. During this period he also took up bird watching and soon decided to combine his favorite hobbies by turning his artistic attention exclusively to birds. He quickly garnered attention for his bird paintings and by 1958 had his first London exhibition at the Rowland Ward Gallery. Two years later Ede had another one-man exhibition at the Tryon Gallery, where he would show his work for the next 20 years.

Initially as a painter Ede was strongly influenced by the work of Archibald Thorburn (1860–1835), a Scottish artist today considered one of the greatest ornithological artists of all time. Thorburn developed a highly recognizable formula for his bird paintings, consisting of watercolor and gouache applied to a gray/brown-tinted paper. Thorburn’s lingering influence on Ede is discernible in the present work, in which the quail are depicted in watercolor and gouache on a gray-tinted paper.

Ede had his American debut in 1964 at no less a venue than the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts (today called the Smithsonian American Art Museum), the first show ever given at that museum for a living artist. Two years later, the Kennedy Galleries in New York became Ede’s American dealer and mounted one-man shows of his work in 1971 and 1978. The 1971 exhibition lead to Ede’s most important commission. Jack W. Warner, then-president of Gulf States Paper Corporation, purchased five of the larger works in the exhibition and subsequently commissioned Ede to paint in life size all of the birds of North America for the Warner Collection, a project that spanned the years from 1975 to 1989. The Warner Collection was published in 1991 as Wild Birds of America, containing a forward by H.R.H. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who is an ardent collector of Ede.

In 1989, Ede became seriously disabled by a stroke and lost the use of his right hand. He learned to paint with his left hand and has successfully continued his career to the present day.

Gambel’s Quail is a masterful work by one of the world’s great painters of birds.

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