The world is saturated with paintings of the Great Egret, and for good reason. I myself have always made plans to paint the bird, but I never made the effort for fear of falling short of producing an image that truly captures the beauty and grace of the fine creature. Finally, I felt comfortable with giving a go at painting my first Great Egret.
The all white egret juxtaposed against any landscape is stunning. Evolutionarily speaking, it makes little sense why any animal would want to wear plumage of piercing white, unless perhaps their habitat was a snow covered ice land. Thriving in tropical climates, the Great Egret defies any sensible survival strategy and boldly stands out as a symbol of the grace and allure of the avian world.
Deep in the mangroves, a bird studies the shallows. Calm and steady, with long flowing plumes, the beauty of the Great Egret stabs through the shadows. Densely covered forests filter the light, creating a dark world of wonder. Sunlight filters through the shrubbery, and the bright white plumage of Ardea alba shines with vitality. An image of elegance preserved in time, preserved through time.
The Great Egret, Ardea alba. 18x24" oil on stretched canvas. Original not for sale.
Preserved is precisely the word. Saved from the lustful commodification of the new America, the Great Egret now stands as a symbol of what is that might have been lost. Plume hunters at the turn of the 19th century sought after the long white decorative feathers that the egrets wear in breeding season. The stunning feathers adorned the hats of many wealthy women, who served as eyesores against the beautiful white decorations worn upon their heads.
How such a creature could be disrespected leaves me grasping. I have never been able to pass an egret without stopping, stepping back, and paying homage to its exquisite nature. I now see the Great Egret as the powerful symbol that through sacrifice and near extinction, awoke humanity to their destructive nature, resulting in the birth of the conservation movement. No wonder the bird is chosen to accent the National Audubon Society’s logo. Their name reflects their human heritage, and their symbol reflects their avian awakener.
It is nearly the first of January, and multiple reports have come of these birds in the marshlands of the Great Salt Lake. If you have never seen a live egret, make a diligent effort to do so. Perhaps when it is found, it will awaken you much like it awakened America. Perhaps you will see the elegance, the beauty, the allure, and the importance of the natural world.