Sarah Stone worked as a painter and natural history illustrator in England between 1777 and 1820, and although she never visited the Pacific region she became renowned for her depictions of Hawaiian, Pacific and Australian subjects. Her drawings were the first studies of certain natural history species, a fact which makes them of considerable scientific interest.
painter and natural history illustrator, was the daughter of a professional fan painter. She worked as a natural history illustrator in England between 1777 and 1820, and although she never visited the Pacific region she became renowned for her depictions of Hawaiian, Pacific and Australian subjects. Stone was commissioned by some of the great eighteenth-century collectors, including Sir Ashton Lever and Sir Joseph Banks, to prepare watercolour drawings based on specimens of animals, birds and objects brought back to England by members of exploring expeditions. In many cases her drawings were the first studies of certain natural history species, a fact which makes them of considerable scientific interest; they are also excellent examples of late eighteenth century natural history draughtsmanship in their own right. Some of her watercolours recording the collections of artefacts and natural history gathered on the voyages of Captain James Cook (husband of Elizabeth Cook ) are among the treasures of the Australian Museum in Sydney and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
As Miss Stone, 'Honorary Exhibitor’, she exhibited four paintings at the Royal Academy in 1781 and 1786: two of birds, a peacock and a group of shells. As Mrs Smith, she showed a perspective view of Sir Ashton Lever’s Museum with the London Society of Artists at Leicester House in 1791 – previously exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1785. This magnificent interior view of one of the great private natural history museums (numbering 28,000 items in 1783) – a watercolour dated 30 March 1785 – was offered at Sotheby’s 'Australia 2000’ auction in Sydney on 16 August 2000 with an estimate of $20,000-30,000. It sold for $107,000 (with premium) to Hordern House, which onsold it to the State Library of NSW in 2001. Until November 2000 the Library had only one signed watercolour by Stone, plus several similar unsigned watercolours that may be her work among a number of added illustrations, either bound in or pasted into sets, in the copy of Cook’s published Voyages that once belonged to Thomas Pennant, a scientist and friend of Sir Joseph Banks (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW). Then it purchased 31 of her watercolours of Australian birds and animals formerly owned by the Melbourne collector Peter Willcox, via Sotheby’s, for $444,000.
The British Museum (Natural History) has 90 drawings by Stone of 'rarities’ such as mammals, reptiles, fish, corals and fossils once in Sir Ashton Lever’s Museum, plus thirteen watercolour drawings of birds. The National Library of Australia, Canberra, ACT acquired 15 of Stone’s watercolours from Tim McCormick in 1992, originals of some of the illustrations she provided for John White’s Journal (1790). Sarah Stone did the original artwork for other 'Australian’ publications too, including George Shaw’s Museum Leveriarum (London 1792-96).