Audubon’s innovations as a naturalist-artist are apparent in these spectacular watercolors for The Birds of America. They display his brilliant contributions not only to the tradition of ornithological illustration―transforming it into an exhilarating fine art that captured the behaviors and life force of each species―but also to the development of watercolor as a sophisticated medium. Audubon experimented with novel techniques in modeling, collaging, and mixing media—including metallic pigment and glazes—and is considered America’s first great watercolorist. In comparison with the Havell prints, the watercolors possess a startling immediacy and a freshness that underline his genius in linking natural history and art, as well as a respect for the environment. Both their inscriptions and layers of media preserve the artist’s working process in his revolutionary compositions, which for the first time in history depicted all the birds life-size. By ingeniously embedding the viewer with him in the birds’ wilderness habitats of an Edenic America, Audubon achieved high decibel excitement. Even judged alongside today’s technology, his endlessly inventive cinematic tableaux are among the most visually arresting works of art ever produced. So alive are his birds that they seem about fly or stalk off the page. Once Havell had completed printing the copper plates, Audubon shipped the watercolors back from London and exhibited them publicly for the last time in 1839 at the Lyceum of Natural History in New York City. At some point, all the sheets were laid down onto thin card stock.
Audubon’s Aviary: Part I and Part II of The Complete Flock
Letter from John James Audubon (Liverpool, England) to Robert Havell Jr. (London, England), December 31, 1827
This letter dates from the first year of the Audubon-Havell collaboration, [...]
During his lifetime John James Audubon was awarded many honors, including e[...]
Powerful and fast-flying (speeds up to 69 miles per hour), the Peregrine Fa[...]
Letter from Lucy Audubon (New York, New York) to Frederic De Peyster (New York, New York), February 13, 1863
In this letter to Frederic De Peyster, who brokered the sale of Audubon’s w[...]
Museum StoreWritten by Roberta J.M. Olson with a contribution by Marjorie Shelley, Audubon’s Aviary: The Original Watercolors for the Birds of America returns to these original paintings and tells the story behind this monumental classic with new discoveries about this American icon. Audubon’s Aviary was awarded the 2013 Association of Art Museum Curators Outstanding Permanent Collection Catalogue Prize, as well as the Henry Allen Moe Prize for Catalogs of Distinction in the Arts, the New York State Historical Association, 2013. It was also selected as one of Amazon.com’s 2012 Best Books of the Year and the 2013 New York Book Show Award winner in the category of Fine Art.