I earlier talked about Elizabeth Gould, bird artist of the 19th century who may not have been given enough credit for her works. There are others, too, in recent years who are outstanding bird artists but not well known. One is Lars Jonsson (1952-), ornithologist and artist, who started painting birds when he was young; at the age of seven his parents entered him into an art contest and were accused of fraud as “someone so young could not have painted like young Jonsson.” At 15, he exhibited his paintings at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. In the late 1970’s he wrote and illustrated a series of six bird guides including Birds of Sea and Coast and Birds of Mountain Regions. In 1999 he published a five-volume work, Birds of Europe: With North Africa and the Middle East, an essential resource for any European birder.
A self-taught artist, some have described Jonsson as the “greatest living bird artist.” Jonsson spends a considerable amount of time in the field, using a telescope as much as a pencil or brush. In his Common Shelducks painting, three of the five ducks look out of the painting, giving the viewer a full frontal of the ducks’ face. Ducks face each other all the time, but rarely do they look at us from a painting. But this is the way it is in nature. His Avocet with Young shows the birds in superb realism, against a somewhat impressionistic background of sky and water.
Jonsson’s works are in several art collections, including the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The director, Adam Harris, writes “To even attempt to capture the beauty of nature…requires more thought, more time, more energy than most artists are willing to invest, but, to Jonsson, this investment is part and parcel of what it means to be an artist.” Jonsson draws from life, usually from a distance, using a spotting telescope. This works well with birds like hawks, such as his Gyrfalcon that brazenly sit in a broad landscape. Rarely does he show songbirds in the brush or trees. He sketches in the field with pencil so confidently that he never erases. At times he paints or uses pen and ink without an initial pencil sketch.
One advantage that Jonsson has over earlier painters is high-speed photography that shows the birds in motion. Never copying a photograph, Jonsson, however, used several to remind him of what birds looked like in flight.
Birds and Light: the Art of Lars Jonsson is part autobiography and part a description of the author’s technology, illustrated with his artwork, including sketchbooks, and covers the development and completion of finished canvases.
Where Heaven and Earth Touch: The Art of Birdpainter Lars Jonsson, another book on Jonsson’s art, was published in conjunction with the first exhibition of Lars Johnsson’s work in the Republic of Germany. In 2009 he published Lars Jonsson’s Birds: Paintings from a Near Horizon, featuring 150 full-color, museum-quality reproductions of works painted in the field.
His latest (2017) book is Birds in Winter.