Essay

Australian bird artist Frank T. Morris paints Elizabeth Gould

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Thanks to Phil Brown’s fantastic article about The Birdman’s Wife and Elizabeth and John Gould in last weekend’s QWeekend, I was contacted by renowned Australian bird artist, Frank T Morris. I was excited to learn that he completely agreed with me that John Gould had taken some (most?) of the limelight from Elizabeth Gould – I like to call him a shameless self-promoter – and that she deserved much greater recognition and respect than she has so far been given. Frank writes :
To my mind the final snub to her and her efforts was his naming of the Gouldian Finch. He claimed to the Royal Society that he named the bird in honour of his wife, but if he was for real he would have called it Elizabeth Finch, not Gouldian Finch. I think his ego was too big to truly honour her.
In his frustration and great love of Elizabeth’s artworks, he painted this wonderful portrait of Elizabeth Gould in 1986. The Gouldian Finch, which John Gould said was the most beautiful bird in the world, is perched on her finger. She sits at a table reading a letter John Gould wrote to her, explaining that he had named the Gouldian Finch in her honour. What I find so beautiful about the painting and the concept behind it is that the letter is one of the imagination. Elizabeth never knew that John named this stunning Australian finch to celebrate her passionate dedication to designing, drawing and painting exquisite hand-coloured bird plates, not to mention bearing his eight children and making the sacrifice of leaving three of them behind in England to accompany him to Australia to draw  and collect our ‘curious’ bird species.
Frank is not the only person who has come out ‘to bat’ for Elizabeth. During my research to write The Birdman’s Wife, I met one of Elizabeth Gould’s descendants, who lived in Brisbane. The sadly deceased Bruce Crawford, and three other members of the Coxen (Elizabeth’s maiden name) tribe came to a small presentation I gave about Elizabeth Gould and my research. Similarly, the family were very enthusiastic about my Elizabeth Gould novel project (as it was at the time). Their support, along with Frank’s, means so much to me.
Long live Elizabeth Gould’s glorious hand-coloured lithographs.
You can see more of Frank T. Morris’s beautiful bird paintings at franktmorrisart.com.au.

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