James Audubon

John James Audubon (1785-1851)

Hailed as “The American Woodsman,” Audubon is best known for his life size prints of American birds. His interest in wildlife began at a young age while growing up in France, where he began drawing French birds at age 15 and in just a few short years at the age of 17 he was taking drawing classes. In 1820, at the age of 35, he began his initial work on The Birds of America. This anthology would eventually be comprised of 435 hand painted engravings. Audubon worked from life as often as possible, traveling and studying birds in their own habitat. He has sometimes been criticized for presenting his birds in a theatrical manner, but his advocates argue that Audubon uses these exaggerations to capture the movement and individuality of his each of his wild subjects. The four volume collection was completed in 1839. The popularity of Audubon’s The Birds of America is evident by the number of different editions printed, including the Bien, Octavo, and New York Historical Society editions. However the original edition, called the Havell Edition, is by far the most valuable. The first 15 prints in the collection were produced by engraver W. H. Lizars, but after Lizars colorists went on strike, Robert Havell, a well-known and talented London engraver, completed the series. Each sheet of the Havell series measures 26 by 39 inches and depicts Audubon’s subjects in life size. Less then 200 complete sets were printed, and of these, over 100 remain complete and intact in museums and libraries. Because few of the sets have been broken up, it is a rare to come across a Havell Edition engraving, making each one extremely valuable. After the completion of The Birds of America, Audubon went on to create an anthology of American mammals called The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, but the collection never gained the same acclaim of The Birds of America.

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