top of page
  • Writer's pictureLeo Davey

Birds of the World - 12 years of painting "Birds in Boxes" watercolours

Since 2008 I have worked on numerous Birds in Boxes paintings. They were inspired by Vicomte Alexandre Isidore Leroy de Barde, a watercolourist painting in the early 1800s.

"Collection of Foreign Birds" By Vicomte Alexandre Isidore Leroy de Barde - Quite an act to follow!

I imagine he would have used taxidermy samples and that the painting was done directly from an existing display with no attempt to make them look alive. More a celebration of collecting than a celebration of bird life.

I wanted to have a go at this but rather than replicating an existing mangy display I wanted to simply depict my favorite birds in combinations that would never happen in nature for geographical and behavioral reasons. As an artist, I could make this happen. I didn’t have to create an actual display but could use some of the many wonderful reference books I have collected over the years. I selected some of my favorite birds and over 2 gridded compositions I scaled up 2 of my first attempts of an Leroy de Barde inspired watercolour of what I saw as living birds behaving rather peculiarly and not flying off.

My first Attempts - Bird Grids 1 & 2

Over the years I have devised a way of making my own reference material for these paintings. It involves sourcing beautiful bird images from various books, magazines and the internet, cutting them out, resizing them to life size, positioning them in various boxes, popping them on perches and adding convincing shadows. All of this is painstakingly achieved through hours and hours of photoshopping and this is even before starting the final artwork. From this quite crudely pieced together photo montage I create the painting.

Crudely assembled reference for "28 British Birds" 2019 (detail)

Final solution for "28 British Birds" 2019 (detail)


"Birds in Boxes"

The above painting is birds from all over the world in a grid from an old opticians practice with some of the uprights and shelves removed.

The now repurposed opticians grid used for reference in "Birds in boxes" 2015 and other paintings


This next pair were all British birds, each repeated in the other and painted life size. The idea was that they could either be hung side by side one way or the other way in a corner and the perspective would work both ways if you stand in a particular spot.

Hanging option 1

Hanging option 2


This next one, again all British birds, works in perspective if your stand to the right of it. Each bird in an individual box framed separately but joined as one. This is my heaviest piece to date!

"12 British Birds"


"28 British Birds" is a more elaborate version of its predecessors. Birds are more tightly packed together and there is more attention to detail with the perches and the box itself.

"28 British Birds"

And then this years efforts. 2020. Lock down. 63 Birds of the World over 12 paintings. Each box themed. Jays of the world, Magpies, Parrots, Finches, Woodpeckers, Kingfishers and others. An excess of colour and beauty.

All 12 paintings from the "Birds of the World" collection

Close up of "Cuckoos of the World" & "Birds of the World - European Highlights"

They were started the day of lock down and as it happened finished on the day lock down ended. I thought I was done with birds for 2020 when my daughter suggested "a rainbow of birds?" It seemed relevant with the current state of the world. A symbol of hope and a reflection of the world's diversely colourful and beautiful wildlife that needs protecting. So, after a month of sourcing and deciding on and cutting out and assembling the 89 chosen birds of the world and another 6 weeks of drawing and painting, “A Rainbow of Birds” is now well underway.

Here it is at an earlier stage.

and here it at the end of September

5 weeks later and it's currently looking pretty sharp with 40% of all birds finished. I've never been so excited about a painting.

It’s crying out to be made into a jigsaw puzzle.

I wonder if it’ll make Christmas!!

I'll keep you posted.

All works are available in their original form (unless already SOLD) and as high quality prints on German Etching paper in various sizes. Some works are also available as cards. For details check out my website or email, phone or visit me at Leo Davey Studio/Gallery in Minehead.

Thanks for reading. X

399 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page