Mark Catesby

The English naturalist Mark Catesby (1682-1749) compiled the first comprehensive survey of the flora and fauna of south-eastern North America (then part of the British colonies). He made two extended visits to the region, to Virginia 1712-19 and to Carolina and Florida 1722-26. He also travelled to the West Indies, visiting Jamaica in 1714 and the Bahama Islands in 1725.

When Catesby returned to England he began work on his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, which was published in parts between 1729 and 1747 and eventually comprised 220 illustrations with accompanying descriptions. The watercolours displayed in this section are Catesby’s original studies for the plates of the book. Believing that ‘artistic’ techniques of shading and perspective compromised objective truth, Catesby used instead what he termed ‘a Flat, tho’ exact manner’ to make a precise visual record of each creature and plant.

Catesby’s original watercolours for the Natural History were purchased by George III in 1768.


Bald eagle
Nightjar and mole cricket
Ivory-billed woodpecker and willow oak
Passenger pigeon and turkey oak
Red-legged thrush and gumbo limbo tree
Yellow-throated warbler, pine warbler and red maple
Head of the flamingo and gorgonian
Great hogfish
Angel fish
Sally lightfoot or rock crab and flame box crab
Bull bay magnolia
Striped skunk
Jamaican anole and sweet gum
Water frog and purple pitcher plant
Pitch apple
American bison and Robinia