Published 28th March 2023
By Andrew Thomas View profile
The wonderfully decorative embossed paper bird pictures by Samuel Dixon of Dublin only rarely appear at auction so it was with particular pleasure that we were able to offer a set of four in our Fine Art. They had been consigned for sale by a vendor in the South Hams and we were confident that they would be received with real enthusiasm from the antique buying fraternity. These embossed paper bird pictures have a particular appeal to those of us in the trade who still enjoy what we refer to as ‘old fashioned antiques’. By this, I mean that the vagaries of fashion have largely passed them by and they are as popular now as they were in the 1970’s and 80’s. There is no doubt that they look attractive in any setting and compliment antique furniture, ceramics, almost anything in fact.
A native of Dublin, Samuel Dixon was made famous by his sets of embossed bird and flower pictures which he produced in the 1750’s from his Capel Street premises in Dublin. He used a technique known as ‘basso relievo’ whereby parts of the design were raised by means of a copper plate and then coloured in gouache. The advantage of painting in gouache can clearly be seen as the opaque colours, which were ground in water and thickened with gum and honey, fade very little. In consequence, the decoration is often surprisingly vibrant and fresh considering 300 years have passed since they left Ireland. Dixon’s pictures were a great success at the time and were often purchased by the ‘nobility and gentry’ and in addition they were popular with ladies who imitated them in needlework.
Together with his contemporary Isaac Spackman who produced bird pictures of a similar type, Dixon usually took his designs from illustrations in the first four volumes of George Edwards’ ‘Natural History of Uncommon Birds’ produced between 1743-1751.