Study of a mollusc: Spondylus Regius, 'Regal thorny oyster shell'
Date Made/Found: 1790-1820
, Irish, 1768 - 1837
Material and Medium: watercolour with gum glaze on paper
Dimensions: Sight size: 189 x 247mm
Mount: 315 x 381mm
Accession Number: CGSG01135
Donovan made this drawing towards one of his books of natural history. One of the most famous was 'The Natural History of British Shells', first published in 1799. It became one of the more popular books on shells during the 1800s, due to its beautifully produced, hand coloured illustrations. Not only did Donovan paint exquisitely detailed preliminary illustrations for all his books, he also made sure he had control over the final book illustrations by etching, engraving and hand colouring them himself.
According to Ruskin, Donovan's illustrations were of 'inestimable excellence'. He added though ‘[they] affect me with profound melancholy in the thought of the loss to the entire body of the nation of all this perfect artistic capacity'. By this, Ruskin refers to natural history artists who made spectacular illustrations 'for love and truth, and not for lust and gold'. Ruskin felt that illustrators of his day no longer worked with this devotion, wanting more money and fame than book-illustrators received.