John James AUDUBON

Ansel Adams

John James Audubon Mary Cassatt Paul Cézanne Leonardo Da Vinci Edgar Degas The Hudson River School Michelangelo Claude Monet The Pre-Raphaelites Pierre-Auguste Renoir Vincent Van Gogh Frank Lloyd Wright

John James AUDUBON


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First printing 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN (hardback) 978-1-4222-4634-4 ISBN (series) 978-1-4222-4632-0 ISBN (ebook) 978-1-4222-7172-8

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Developed and produced by National Highlights, Inc. Editor: Regency House Publishing Limited Interior and cover design: Regency House Publishing Limited Text © 2023 Regency House Publishing Limited

Front cover: Pink Flamingo from Birds of America (1827) Page 1: Violet-green Cormorant and Townsend’s Cormorant from Birds of America (1827) Page 2–3: Yellow Shank from Birds of America (1827)


The Art of Audubon 7 Series Glossary of Key Terms 92

Index 94 List of Plates 96


PLATE 1 John James Audubon 1826



John James Audubon was born in 1785 in Saint-Dominique—now Haiti—of a French father and Creole mother. He was raised in France but immigrated to the United States at the age of eighteen, living on his family’s farm near Philadelphia. In 1808, he married Lucy Bakewell, who agreed to support him while he completed his ornithological portfolio. Unable to find backers in America, Audubon moved to England, where his magnum opus was published. He produced an octavo edition (with some additional Western species) in 1843, and between 1842 and 1845, with the help of his sons, published a book on mammals, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. He eventually settled in the north of Manhattan Island overlooking the Hudson River, where he died in 1851.


T he results of a period of world exploration were consolidated in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries when descriptions of newly discovered animals and plants were published in a series of great works. The brightness and variety of colors and patterns made birds a particularly favored subject for illustrated books. Large multi-volume works were often sold, and subscribers received many small parts, usually sections of pages or some illustrated plates, which might be printed over several years. The purchaser would then have them bound to form a book. Subscriptions were needed to ensure that the parts continued to appear, and authors were simultaneously hunting for subscribers, even while they were collecting information and writing or illustrating their books. It was against this background, having failed to get the support that he needed in his own country, that in

1826 John James LaForest Audubon appeared in Liverpool, England, dressed for effect as an American backwoodsman and with an impressive portfolio of his paintings to exhibit. He traveled to Edinburgh, where exhibitions of his work attracted favorable public interest. He was aware that Alexander Wilson’s mainly textual work on American birds would already be known, and he needed his to outshine it. Audubon’s vivid bird portraits, full of movement and vitality, caught the imagination, and he daringly proposed to illustrate the American birds on the largest available paper size, double elephant folio, which would allow most species to be shown life-size. It was a huge proposition. This was Audubon’s first great venture into the field of bird portraiture. He had had a varied past, having been born nearly forty years earlier, in 1785, at Les Cayes, Saint-Dominique, on what is now the island of Haiti. His





PLATE 2 American Pied-Billed Dobchick Podiceps Carolinensis



PLATE 3 Velvet Duck Melanitta fusca



PLATE 4 Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Picus querulus

father, Jean Audubon, was a sea captain, and his mother, Jeanne Rabine, died shortly after his birth. He spent his childhood and schooldays in France, though he appears to have had a rather scant formal education. However, he became interested in wildlife through hunting and drawing what he saw. In 1803, when he was in his late teens, his father persuaded him to return to



manage his farm; John James took charge of the farm at Mill Grove near what is now the town of Audubon, near Norristown, Pennsylvania, and effectively began his life as an American. He continued to study the wildlife around him, particularly the birds. He also began his technique of supporting dead birds on wires so that he could paint them in various postures. He married a neighbor’s

daughter, Lucy Bakewell, and had two sons and later a daughter. Although he does not seem to have had a good head for business, he saw himself as a great entrepreneur and merchant and embarked on a series of unsuccessful ventures. The inspiration for a work on birds may have been triggered by a chance meeting with Alexander Wilson. Wilson was a Scotsman who had traveled to America in

PLATE 5 Yellow-Billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus



PLATE 6 Shoveler Duck Anas clypeata

1794 at the age of twenty-eight. At that time, he had only nineteen years to live before he would die of tuberculosis, but during that time he became a serious ornithologist and produced a nine-volume work on American birds, describing many for the first time. He traveled in search of birds and subscriptions, visiting Louisville in 1809. Audubon, who was at that time managing a store, met him in March 1810 and saw some of his work. They do not appear to have responded well to one another, and although nothing came of the meeting, it may have given Audubon the idea that he could do better.

Only about nine years later did Audubon appear to have envisaged and embarked upon his great work. For the next five years, he traveled in search of birds, neglecting family and business to spend time on bird observation and drawings for his portfolio. It was during that period of backwoods wandering that he acquired his reputation as “the American Woodsman,” emulating the tradition of Crockett and Boone, both of whom he admired enormously. Financial necessity brought an end to his wanderings, and the early 1820s found him painting portraits and



PLATE 7 Winter Hawk Circus hyemalis


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