A 'Venus Comb' shell
Philip Reinagle RA (1749 - 1833)
RA Collection: Art
The Royal Academy's collection of Philip Reinagle drawings includes many studies of shells, probably drawn from the collection of Sir Ashton Lever.
Lever began to collect sea shells around 1760. He bought a large consignment from a ship at Dunkirk and with these formed the core of a natural history collection which eventually included fossils and both live and stuffed birds. The collection was was published in George Shaw's Museum Leverianum, containing Select Specimens from the Museum of the late Sir Ashton Lever, Kt.', 1792-96 which included a large number of hand-coloured engraved plates by Reinagle and other artists.
These drawings by Philip Reinagle are all preparatory studies for a set of paintings featuring large groups of exotic birds, commissioned for Houghton Hall, Norfolk, by George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford (1730-1791). Reinagle drew studies of many birds and shells featured in the compositions from Sir Ashton Lever's natural history collection which was then housed in London and open to visitors between 1774 and 1806. Reinagle was well acquainted with Lever's collection as he exhibited a painting of Lever's 'Hummingbirds' at the Royal Academy in 1786 and later provided some of the illustrations for George Shaw's Museum Leverianum, containing Select Specimens from the Museum of the late Sir Ashton Lever, Kt. , (London, 1792-96).
Reinagle produced several other paintings featuring large assemblies groups of birds, including 'The King Eagle Pursued to the Sun by a Multitudinous Flock of Birds'. These inventory-like paintings of different types of birds were made popular by the Dutch artist Melchior d'Hondecoeter (1636-1695). Three examples of d'Hondecoeter's work have been hung at Holkham Hall, Norfolk since the mid-18th century and it is possible that Reinagle, while working on the Houghton Hall commissions, was able to view d'Hondecoeter's work at nearby Holkham.
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