Wildlife artist J. Fenwick Lansdowne has been described as a humble man, yet with a commanding presence. Just don't compare him to James Audobon.

While Lansdowne, too, specialized in painting birds with meticulous detail, in his introductory essay to J. Fenwick Landowne (Pomegranate 2014 $65 Canada), natural history guru Robert McCracken Peck disdains any such comparison.

"Such references serve little purpose, except to confirm the seriousness of the artist's work," writes Peck. "They confuse shared subjects with shared styles, and public recognition with success. They imply there are winners and losers, and all artists are playing at a single game.

"When reviewers describe Fenwick Lansdowne as the John James Audubon of his day-as many have done through the years-what they are really trying to say is that he was a bird painter, and a very good one. Seen in that limited context, the comparison is understandable, but when reviewed in the much larger context of wildlife art, it is misleading.

"A discussion of the two artists can be useful, but only if it does not attempt to rank their relative achievements. While they clearly shared a passion for birds, the two men also possessed contrasting qualities that were as revealing as their few similarities."

Born in Hong Kong in 1937 and raised in Victoria, B.C., the world-renowned, self-taught artist Fenwick Lansdowne was an avid birder who began drawing avian life from age twelve onwards. He remained partially paralyzed by polio since childhood

His first exhibition of watercolours was at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum in 1956. His work has been presented by the Government of Canada to various members of the Royal Family and his illustrations have made contributions to the field of natural history.

Fellow nature-enthusiast the Duke of Edinburgh wrote in the Foreword to one of these books: "Fenwick Lansdowne has the exceptional ability to capture such moments (in birds) with a seemingly effortless assurance which can only come from intimate knowledge, immense care, and remarkable talent."

Among Fenwick Lansdowne's works are a series of seven books that have reputedly sold more than 150,000 copies. Five were in collaboration with writers, but he wrote his own text for two.

Lansdowne first teamed with John Livingston to produce Birds of the Northern Forest in 1966. Birds of the Eastern Forest, Volumes I and II followed in 1968 and 1970. His solo production about British Columbia is Birds of the West Coast, Volume I (Toronto: Feheley, 1976).

A year later, in collaboration with S. Dillon Ripley, Rails of the World was released in conjunction with his Smithsonian Institute exhibition. His Guide to the Behavior of Common Birds, co-produced with Donald Stokes, was released in 1980, and a year later his final solo book, Birds of the West Coast, Volume II.

Described as the first book to present a comprehensive overview of J. Fenwick Lansdowne's work with more than 200 illustrations, J. Fenwick Landowne (Pomegranate 2014 $65 Canada) is a forthcoming Portland-based showcase of the artist's work from the 1970s onward, including more than 160 full-color reproductions and 15 photographs.

The Pomegranate magnum opus features images from Rare Birds of China, the result of Lansdowne's trip to China in 1984 during which he met with noted ornithologists to identify rare birds for painting.

A foreword by Graeme Gibson leads to essays by Tristram Lansdowne, Tony Angell, Patricia Feheley, Robert Genn, Robert McCracken Peck and Nicholas Tuele.

-- Tristram Lansdowne was born in 1983 in Victoria, British Columbia, to Helen and Fenwick Lansdowne. He studied visual arts at the University of Victoria and at the Ontario College of Art & Design, and has exhibited across Canada and the United States. He was a semifinalist in the 2011 RBC Painting Competition, and in 2013 his work was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada. Currently he lives in Toronto.
-- Graeme Gibson has been a founding member and chair of the Writers' Union of Canada, the Writers' Trust of Canada, and PEN Canada. A longtime conservationist, he has been a council member of the World Wildlife Fund Canada and is currently joint honorary president, with Margaret Atwood, of BirdLife International's Rare Bird Club. He has written four novels, a book of interviews, and two miscellanies.
-- Tony Angell has won numerous awards for his artwork, including the prestigious Master
Artist Award of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. His sculptural forms celebrating
nature are to be found in public and private collections throughout North America.
-- Patricia Feheley is owner and director of Feheley Fine Arts, an exclusive Toronto art gallery specializing in early and contemporary Inuit art. She has represented Canada's leading artists via private and commercial galleries.
-- Robert Genn is one of Canada's best-known painters. His oils and acrylics include the landscape and indigenous peoples of the coast of British Columbia, the Rocky Mountains, and Canada's far north.
-- Robert McCracken Peck is a senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel
University. The author of numerous articles and books, he has served as a natural history
consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Library, Reader's Digest Books, and David Attenborough and the British Broadcasting Corporation.
-- Nicholas Tuele is sole proprietor of The Art of Art Consulting, a specialty company that provides tailored solutions to cultural institutions, collectors, and artists.


In 1977, Fenwick Lansdowne was made an Officer in the Order of Canada. He received the Order of British Columbia in 1995 and the Master Artist Award of the Leigh Yawkey Art Museum.

Fenwick Lansdowne died in 2008. [Lansdowne photo by Dudley Whitney]

[BCBW 2013] "Art" "Natural History"