Comparing this later version with Audubon’s earlier study (Figure 1)―where the bird is collaged onto a flat background―underlines why he revised his composition. In 1821 he had cut the bird in the watercolor 1863.18.33 from an even earlier work, which he had deemed unsuccessful, and pasted it onto this sheet. JJA was also dissatisfied with that result. In this third attempt, a brilliant reprise from scratch with a subtler palette and modeling, the artist conveyed the soft three-dimensionality of the bird’s body. His sophisticated manipulation of monochromatic watercolor on wet paper for the background also created the illusion of the limitless sea and sky so successfully that it induces vertigo. Expertly controlling the pooling of the watercolor to make the paper resemble silk moiré, he retained reserves of dry, unwashed paper in the bird’s tail and wings, producing a technical tour-de-force that defies the constraints of the watercolor medium.
Audubon’s Aviary: Part I and Part II of The Complete Flock
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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, [...]
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.