David Smith was the first major American artist who challenged the supremacy of the solid figure or object. He replaced the massed form with a more open, physically hollow one by employing principles of direct welding based on joinery and construction, rather than traditional sculptural modes of carving and modeling.
The Royal Bird represents a continuation of Smith's interests in linear, insect like creatures that began in the mid-1930s. It is based on the skeleton of a prehistoric bird of the Cretaceous period, the Hesperornis regalis (royal evening bird), in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The artist created imaginative additions to the skeleton's form in sketchbook drawings in the 1940s, augmenting the bulbous tail and streamlining the figure to more closely resemble the taut body of a diving bird.