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Beautiful and imporant treatise on entomology, with 120 colour plates

WILKES, Benjamin.
One hundred and twenty copper-plates of English moths and butterflies, representing their changes into the caterpillar, chrysalis, and fly-states, and the plants, flowers, and fruits, whereon they feed. Coloured with great exactness from the subjects themselves. With a natural history of the moths and butterflies, describing the method of managing, preserving, and feeding them.
London, R. N. Rose (printed by G. Verrall, Worthing), 1824. 4to. With 120 engraved plates (mainly 27.5 x 22.5 cm) hand-coloured for the author. Mid-19th-century half gold-tooled dark green morocco. VIII, [22], 63, [5] pp.
€ 12,500
Third edition of a ground-breaking entomological colour-plate book, with 120 engraved and beautifully hand-coloured illustration plates showing not only the moths and butterflies, but also the plants that host them, first published and sold by the author himself in 1749, apparently a week before his death (a second edition appeared in 1773). From a young age, Benjamin Wilkes (ca. 1720?-1749) was a member of the Aurelian Society, which eventually evolved into the Royal Entomological Society. Wilkes himself published and sold the first edition of the book The English moths and butterflies, and commissioned the colourist, and the present edition was beautifully coloured for the publisher. The book's title places significant emphasis on the plates' colouration, and the artist's execution of the coloration suggests an accomplished colourist, likely affiliated with the publisher. To illustrate the book, Wilkes engaged the celebrated botanical artists Georg Dionysius Ehret and Jacob van Huysum, even though it is curious that they worked on a book about moths and butterflies, at a time when there was no comparable tradition of entomological illustration. As a result, the plates sometimes feature overwhelming botanical elements. Wilkes took care to detail the relationships between insects and specific plants in his text.
In 18th-century London, Benjamin Wilkes was known as both an artist and a naturalist. He primarily painted historical scenes and portraits in oil paints. However, after attending a meeting of the Aurelian Society at the invitation of a friend, he became enamoured of the study of butterflies and moths. He felt that nature would be his best teacher in terms of colour and form in art. As a result, he began to dedicate his free time to collecting, studying and drawing the various life stages of Lepidoptera (adults, larvae, pupae, and parasitoids such as Tachinidae and Ichneumonidae), often with the assistance of the collector Joseph Dandridge. Wilkes kept his own collection of insects on display "against the Horn Tavern in Fleet Street," London, making it accessible to any interested individual. Sadly, Henry Baker reported in August 1749 that Wilkes died due to a fever only a week after completing his extensive and beautiful work. Despite being highly observant and meticulous in his note-taking, Wilkes lacked formal education and was therefore unable to write a book about his findings. Nonetheless, Baker praised him as an "indefatigable" researcher who dedicated himself wholeheartedly to his work.
Some wear to binding, book block partly detached and slight foxing and browning throughout. Otherwise in good condition. Freeman, 3998; Lisney, 106/186; Nissen, ZBI 4410a, WorldCat 12638205.
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Europe  >  Natural History | United Kingdom & Ireland
Natural history  >  Insects & Spiders