Like many ladies who painted during the era in which Sarah Stone lived, she produced exquisite paintings in watercolour. But she was almost unique in that she enjoyed a considerable amount of commercial success. Her paintings didn’t just stay on the walls of friends or relatives, but were actively sought after by connoisseurs and collectors alike.
In an age when the efforts of women were often disregarded or even entirely dismissed she ‘bucked the trend’ and stood out as a woman who ‘mattered’. In this way she might be compared to her contemporary Mary Anning, the woman from Lyme Regis who kick-started the science of palaeontology. Like the activities of Miss Anning, Sarah Stone’s products proved to be of enormous historical and scientific value.
What was it about her that stood out from the rest?
First, she was highly skilled and produced beautiful images of birds, mammals, fish, insects, shells, minerals and ethnological objects when such curiosities were being brought back for the first time from far corners of the world. In many cases the images she produced are the only records that now remain of the important treasures being brought back to Britain on significant and highly celebrated exploratory voyages, most famously those of Captain Cook. So her pictures form a unique record of discoveries that in many respects changed the world.
Second, she was remarkably industrious and painted almost every day. The daughter of a painter of fans, she was largely self-taught and began her career at an early age. Although many of her pictures survive, almost all now exist only in museums and galleries from which they will never be released.
Only a very few remain in private hands, which is why the emergence of this remarkable collection of no less than 23 watercolours is so surprising. And what a collection it is, containing highly detailed paintings of exotic birds that were being seen in Britain for the first time in the days when Sarah painted them. It may be asked, "how did she get access to such rare and valued items?". The answer is simple, when she was still young, she was commissioned by Sir Ashton Lever, owner of the celebrated Leverian Museum to paint some of his most interesting objects. She fulfilled her obligations in stunning and beautiful ways, and it was just as well that she did, for the entire Leverian collection was dispersed at an auction that took place in 1806, and many of the items were lost forever.
BOOK LAUNCH: 30 JUNE - 7 JULY
The exhibition of this remarkable collection of newly discovered watercolours will, of course, be only temporary but a more permanent record is being prepared in the form of a book that is already in production and will be published in time for the exhibition.
The new book, Sarah Stone’s Unseen World A Rare collection of 18th Century Ornithological Watercolours, will be launched during LAW week: Friday 30, June to Friday, 7 July Finch and Co.
Meet the author, Errol Fuller, signing copies of the new book on Saturday 1st July, between 2pm and 5pm. We look forward to your visit.