Georgina Macdonald painted Dead Bird when she was 17 years old. She trained at the Government School of Design, London. This detailed, life-sized execution reflects both contemporary interest in natural history, a common pursuit for educated young women at the time, and the artist’s studies with the progressive painter Ford Madox Brown. The bird, a Green-Headed Tanager (Tangara seledon) had been brought from South America.
Macdonald had joined the Pre-Raphaelite circle at the age of 15, and was influenced by the critic John Ruskin who encouraged artists to focus on the appearance and significance of nature and natural forms.