Brilliant NZ Native Birds Poster published by Te Papa Press

"Native Birds of New Zealand" Poster | Image Credit: Te Papa Press
When Geoff Norman, author of "Buller's Birds of New Zealand: The Complete Works of JG Keulemans", spotted a framed poster of "Native Birds of New Zealand" at his friend Jock Phillip's place (Jock's a well known NZ historian and editor of "Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand") he realised this could be the poster that Te Papa Press were looking for to accompany the publication of his award winning book.

It was the perfect poster to accompany his book's launch because the birds in the poster are based on the artwork of JG Keulemans, illustrator of Walter Buller's "A History of the Birds of New Zealand".

The Book
Norman's book "Buller's Birds of New Zealand: The Complete Work of JG Keulemans" (already on its second printing and currently available from bookstores and Te Papa Store) included the complete set of 95 artworks from both editions of ‘A History of the Birds of New Zealand’ by Walter Buller and the subsequent supplement. In the book each bird painting is accompanied by extracts from Buller’s original, descriptive text. It also includes up-to-date taxonomic information in English and te reo Māori, as well as background information about Keulemans and the production of these books.

Hand-coloured prints by watercolour artist Keulemans were first published in 1873 in the first edition of Walter Buller’s iconic book, known colloquially as ‘Buller’s Birds’. Aside from a limited edition released in 1986, this new book is the first time that the full set of these prints of native New Zealand birds has been printed in colour since the nineteenth century.

Buller completed the second edition in 1888, containing new plates, this time using chromolithography, an early form of colour printing. Author Geoff Norman came across the original watercolour proofs for this edition and the subsequent supplement by chance while in the UK.

“I was staying near Tring where the Ornithological Branch of the Natural History Museum is based, and was told about their New Zealand cabinets and also that the original watercolours for ‘Buller’s Birds’ were kept there. I realised how special those paintings were, and when I saw them knew that I wanted to republish them together with the hand-coloured first edition plates,” says Geoff.  “Keulemans’ paintings of our birdlife are bright and luminous and clear. They’re masterpieces. We’re presenting them in this new book at the same size and in the same order as they appear in the original books, but modern scanning and printing means that we are able to reproduce the colour and detail in the way they artist originally intended. I think Keulemans would like what we’ve done with his work.”

The Poster
Jock Phillips had bought a framed version of the "Native Birds of New Zealand" poster from a second hand shop. His copy of the poster had been reprinted in the 1990s by a Dunedin printer that was no longer in business.  Originally the poster was produced as a chromolithograph (a coloured print using a tablets of stone as the printing plates). The designer/artist was William Schmidt (1870-1969). He was born in Auckland and did lithographs for The New Zealand Graphic. His father was John Diedrich Schmidt, a German who was one of the founders of the Melbourne Age before he moved to New Zealand where he set up a business as a printer and engraver.

The poster was scanned but was not touched up or "Photoshopped".  Te Papa Press added a light grey border around the poster and extend the light grey text panel at the bottom to include source material and Te Papa Press details. There are 25 native bird species depicted in the poster and they are identified with tiny numbers and a key at the bottom of the poster that also gives the fraction of natural size at which the birds are reproduced.

This publication is a glorious re-discovery of an unusually decorative and well designed early NZ poster.  Te Papa Press's printers have done a wonderful job of re-printing this poster, "Native Birds of New Zealand" is printed on a superb silken paper stock that does not merely reproduce the original chromolithograph, it reincarnates it!  Copies of this poster are on sale here at NZ Fine Prints.

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