Picks and Pans Review: Parrots, Macaws, and Cockatoos: the Art of Elizabeth Butterworth

updated 05/23/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/23/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Elizabeth Butterworth

Butterworth had her first close encounter with a parrot, a scarlet macaw, in 1972. It was a present from a boyfriend to the young British artist, then finishing her last year at the Royal College of Art in London. The gift proved providential. Since the mid-'70s, Butterworth has been painting nothing but parrots, macaws and cockatoos. She is of course not the first human to succumb to the outspoken charms of the more than 300 species of the strange, spectacular parrot family. But Butterworth is a rara avis too, a kind of modern Audubon. In the 26 detailed, poster-size sketches and paintings in this book, handsomely reproduced on heavy paper, she pays tribute to the birds man prizes yet fails to protect. As Butterworth's introduction notes, because of the loss of habitat and the relentless pet trade, many parrots are on the endangered list; seven species have become extinct. She does her part to preserve them in her art. Her red-tailed amazon, Moluccan cockatoo and hyacynthine macaw look astonishingly real. Perched as if only resting temporarily on the page, they exude a canny, half-amused self-contentment. Butterworth's wing studies are equally impressive. The pale ivory and coral wings of a Leadbeater's cockatoo resemble those of a 15th-century Botticelli angel. In a 1986 gouache of a military macaw, the bird sits on a wooden perch, its head invisible, tucked, in a surreal touch, behind a cascading stream of blue and red feathers. Butterworth's parrots emerge from the page not as comic Polly-want-a-cracker birds, but as vivid, even splendid creatures. (Abrams, paper, $18.95)

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