The Gwillim Collection

The Gwillim Collection is held in the Blacker Wood Natural History Collection at McGill University in Montreal. The collection consists of 164 botanical and zoological watercolours. There are 121 watercolours of birds, primarily painted by Elizabeth Gwillim, 31 watercolours of fish, believed to be primarily painted by Mary Symonds, and 12 paintings of plants.

Casey A. Wood acquired the collection in 1924 from a London art dealer for £76, and the paintings have been part of the library’s collection ever since. The bird paintings had been in the art dealer’s cellar untouched for at least a decade prior to the sale. However, the art dealer could not remember when or where they were bought, except that they had obtained them from the “country” many years prior. The dealer told Wood that some paintings had been occasionally purchased throughout the years, either for framing or decorating fire screens! Wood postulated that there were originally around 200 paintings, before 180 of them were sold to the dealer.

It is unclear when the paintings left the possession of the Gwillims. However, it is likely that they were sold following Henry Gwillim’s death in 1837, when his estate and possessions were auctioned by his brother.

For more information on Wood’s acquisition of the collection, read:
Casey A. Wood, “Lady [Elizabeth] GwillimArtist and Ornithologist,” Ibis 67:3 (July 1925): 594-599.