Wildlife artist J. Fenwick Lansdowne has been described as a humble man,

Any of these 3 framed Lansdowne prints are available for $350.00 eachfen print 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. Fen print 3 “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.” fen print 2 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.


I also have the portfolio for “The Birds of Hong Kong’  These prints have never  been framed and they are limited edition 23 of 30 fen0 fen0001 fen01 fen 02 fen1 fen2 fen3 fen5 fen6 fen4 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. 978-0-7649-6670-5 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”

The Art of Fenwick Lansdowne
Profile (July 1987)

[James Fenwick Lansdowne died in 2008. The following article was published approximately eleven years earlier in July of 1987 by Robert H. Jones and subsequently offered to BC BookWorld for reprint purposes by the freelancer.] Meeting a legend By Robert H. Jones There is a moment of hesitation at the gate. Beyond, behind the faded exterior of the small cottage, one of the most respected artists of modern times is at work: James Fenwick Lansdowne. The cultured, almost aristocratic voice on the telephone is about to become reality. The problem: How does one greet a living legend? Stepping onto the wooden veranda, I see Lansdowne through the window; he is sitting at his easel, a telephone receiver at his ear. He spots me and waves me inside. As I enter, he covers the mouthpiece. “Sorry about this. Give me a minute.” I nod in mute reply. So much for the greeting. I study the surroundings. Spartan. What was once a living room is now a spacious, well lit studio. Sparsely furnished, a few mementos scattered here and there, a bird skin on a stand beside the easel, and behind him, leaning against the wall, a wooden crutch. Born 50 years ago in Hong Kong, Lansdowne was stricken with polio at the age of 10 months. He was seven years old before a series of operations permitted him to walk, ten before he attended a public school. His telephone conversation ends and we get down to business. I explain what Wildlife Art News is after. There has been reams of stuff written on the art of Fenwick Lansdowne, but very little about the man behind the brush. “Well, I suppose I’m not really very interesting.” He is very matter of fact. I’ve heard you called talented, cynical, opinionated but never uninteresting. “I was recently called ‘stuffy’ in an Art Impressions article,” he counters. Ah, but the editor, Yvonne Sheppard, described you to me as ‘reserved.’ He mulls that over, then smiles. “Well, I suppose that sounds better than stuffy.” As we chat, the legend proves to be quite congenial, and his deep, oh so cultured voice is much less intimidating in person than it had been during our short telephone conversation. What I find slightly disconcerting, is that unlike most artists his hands do not become animated while talking of his craft. I quickly learn to watch his eyes and facial expressions, for they reveal far more of what he is conveying than any waving of hands. He does not smile often, but when he does, his face virtually illuminates. Why do you work in a studio rather than your home? “It keeps me away from distractions. I’ve had this place since 1963, even before I bought a house. As long as I’m in town, I come to work every day, even if it’s only for an hour or two. It’s hard to stay away from it. “I’m a slow worker, so I try to spend about five or six hours a day here. I used to start about 8:15 in the morning, but now with two small children one three and one just under a year by the time I get out of the house, I don’t get going till about nine. I usually work till about three.” He points to a drawing on the easel. “Right now, I’m working on some commissioned paintings, a series on 32 endangered Chinese birds. This is a jay from Taiwan. I’m having a lot of trouble finding skins to work from because they are rare. Collections that have them just won’t lend them. The Royal Ontario Museum has about a dozen, so I’m working my way through those. Where I’m going to get the rest of them, I don’t know. “This is a preliminary sketch. I’ll work this up into a detailed drawing, then I’ll transfer it onto the final paper. I find that by tracing the final image, the figures can be moved around and erased as necessary. If the preliminaries were all done on the same paper used for the painting, the surface would be damaged by the erasures.” Do you ever use other paint mediums? “No, I’ve never worked with anything but gouache and water color. I find it suitable for me, for the type of work I do.” Okay, let’s talk about your early years. How does a young fellow born in Hong Kong end up in Victoria, British Columbia? “My father was an engineering executive with a British firm there. About the beginning of the Second World War, my parents took me to London to see what could be done about my polio. There had been a big epidemic about the time I got it, but no one knew much about it in those days. “There was little to offer in London, so they came here and put me in the old solarium, which at that time was out by Mill Bay, north of here. It coincided with the beginning of the war, when all the women and children were being evacuated from Hong Kong, so my mother and I stayed. My father very foolishly went back to take a new post at Shanghai. He ended up spending five years stifling in an internment camp. “My mother came from Manchuria; that’s where she spent her childhood and part of her girlhood. At one point, her parents decided to retire here in Victoria. They did for about two years, but then they went back to Manchuria. So, when we had to stay here, at least Victoria was familiar to her. “Father’s company paid the expenses, but they were very small. I think Mother got a hundred dollars a month from this rather colossal firm. At the time, there were a number of women and children in similar circumstances, about a half dozen whose husbands were either interned or in the army. It made sort of a little club. My earliest recollections of life here on the Island are centered around this little group of women and children.” He smiles at the remembrance. “I suppose you could say my childhood was spent with other expatriates and old colonial people. “We lived in a number of different places. Thinking that the Japanese were about to invade Victoria, people would often rent their houses and go off to the Okanagan. Nothing would happen, so they would return and want their house back. As a result, we lived in a tremendous number of places here in Victoria and to the north, in Cowichan Bay and Mill Bay. “After the war, my father came back and we returned to Hong Kong. We only stayed about 18 months, though, because he had contracted tuberculosis. Everybody came out of those camps with their health wrecked. They either died right away or the effects shortened their lives. He retired in 1948 and we came back here.” At what point did your interest in birds begin? He ponders for a moment. “You know, I really have no idea. I was always keen on birds it just seems to be a predisposition. I remember that when I was five years old, I already knew quite a few of them, so it must have started even earlier. I suppose, too, that I have a certain affinity with my subjects. Which is probably natural after working with them day and night for over 30 years. I don’t get out on bird watching trips as much as I used to, but I know what’s there when I see it or hear it. “I used to think that I’d be a biologist or something along that line, but by the time I was in high school, I wasn’t really that interested any longer. “I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a pencil. My mother drew and painted, so she encouraged me. And, of course, I had a fair amount of time because I couldn’t run around. I read a lot and drew a lot I liked to draw anyway, so I probably would have in any event. “I was about 13 when I really got going on painting birds. In retrospect, I’m sorry now that I never took any art training. We used to be told that, ‘Oh, it will affect your style,’ or ‘It will damage your natural ability.’ I think that’s hogwash. I no longer believe that good training at drawing or working with colors would ever hurt anybody. You would apply it to what you are doing and be a lot better off in the long run. “Art is a continuing learning process in which I discover great patches of ignorance. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. Things I know now, or things that I may never know, I might have learned and much sooner had I gone to a good art school.” I had heard from several sources that Lansdowne was quite modest about his talent. Pat Dunn, a well-known Victoria conservationist, has known him for 25 years. “Whenever I’m with him, I have a feeling of being in the presence of greatness. I once told him that and he said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ He’s very self effacing, you know. He’s a far better artist than any of the present day hotshots, but they are better salesmen. I’m afraid Fenwick doesn’t believe in beating his own drum. “A friend of mine, Gaylord Donnelly, has a fantastic collection of originals by Audubon and Peter Scott. He told me that Fenwick’s book on Rails of the World, which was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute, was one of the finest books since Audubon.” Lansdowne’s work is often compared to Audubon. In 1956, when he was barely 19, a portfolio of his paintings was sent to John Livingston, then executive director of the Canadian Audubon Society. As a result, arrangements were made to show 40 works at the Royal Ontario Museum. Soon after, Lansdowne’s bird paintings began appearing in various Canadian magazines, introducing his work across the nation. Two years later he appeared at Audubon House, and in 1961, at the prestigious Tryon Galleries in London.


1 thought on “Wildlife artist J. Fenwick Lansdowne has been described as a humble man,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s