Signed in brush [in the left hand margin on the stump] P Paillou, gouache on vellum
371 x 525 mm. (14 5/8 x 20 5/8 in.)
The Egyptian Goose is a member of the duck, goose and swan family. This bird, 63-73 cm long breeds widely in Africa except in deserts and dense forests and is locally abundant. They are found mostly in the Nile Valley and south of the Sahara. It has been in the British Isles since the 18th century, and was possible chosen by Paillou since it would have been a recent addition to British birds, but it was not included in Thomas Pennants famous book on The British Zoology. 1 Indeed the bird was not added to the British list till 1971. In the British Isles the bird is found mainly in East Anglia, in parkland with lakes. The bird is a largely terrestrial species, which will also perch readily on trees and buildings. It swims well, and in flight looks heavy, more like a goose than a duck. The sexes of this species are identical in plumage, though the males are usually larger. A large part of the wings in mature birds is white, but in repose the white is hidden in the wing coverts, like the present picture. Egyptian geese typically eat seeds, leaves, grasses and plant stems. They were considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians and appeared frequently in their art.
Our picture is drawn on vellum, a medium that Paillou used frequently, but not exclusively since it was more expensive than paper. The vellum support ensured that the quality of the watercolour and gouache remained luminous. Another picture on vellum by Paillou from the same British collection of an Egyptian Goose is now in a private US collection.2
We do not have certified facts on the early life of Peter Paillou, but it is widely assumed that he was of French origins and that he arrived in England in the first half of the 18th century. He is documented as having won a commission for a Gilded Pheasant in 1745. Paillou spent the early years of his career working for the famous writer Thomas Pennant who commissioned pictures of birds, sometimes with landscapes in the background. A number of letters between Paillou and Pennant survive and are in the National Library in Wales. While Paillou was very accomplished at painting birds he became famous only late in life after he was invited to show at the Society of Artists. The Owl in a Young Mans Clothes that he displayed there brought him great success. He is not be confused with his son, also called Peter Paillou, who painted portrait miniatures
1.The British Zoology is an exceedingly important publication and is arguably the first serious systematic treatment of a national zoology that was financially accessible to the average person. It was antedated by Pennant's folio edition (1761-6) which had a briefer text but 132 magnificent folio hand colored engravings.
2.Crispian Riley-Smith, Master Drawings 16th to 20th Centuries, 2011, number 14.