The Ornithologist

Image credit: Glasgow Life Museums

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In a room an elderly bearded man reclines on a sofa. He holds a stuffed red bird while at his side two children gaze eagerly at the bird, while a young woman leans over him. At the head of the sofa are a boy and girl and seated at the foot a young girl. To the right are drawers containing specimens of birds and others lie on the covering of the sofa. To the left is a table with a glass globe and an owl. This painting, also known as 'The Ruling Passion', shows the natural historian and illustrator John Gould (1804–1881) showing some of his collection of bird skins to a group of spellbound children. He was an invalid when the artist Millais visited him, so he had his friend, the artist T. O. Barlow, sit for the picture. The two youngest children are William and George, Millais' grandsons.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum


The Ornithologist




oil on canvas


H 160.7 x W 215.9 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

purchased, 1907

Work type


Inscription description



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Normally on display at

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AG Scotland

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