Allen & Horton Photographers, Boston (after a miniature of 1831 by Frederick Cruickshank [1800–1868])
Carte–de–visite of John James Audubon (1785–1851),
Photographic reproduction on paper, laid on card
Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections
Gift of Daniel Parish Jr., 1903
Full of contradictions (charming, vain, volatile, shy, sensitive, and ambitious), Audubon was handsome, lean, and athletic with long chestnut hair (frequently dressed with bear grease) and a distinctive aquiline nose. This carte-de-visite, produced after his death, captures Audubon’s romantic charisma and affords a rare glimpse of the legendary naturalist as he wished to be remembered. In the dawning years of mass media journalism, Audubon recognized the value of presentation and the manipulated image. He styled himself a celebrity, the man of the hour in an age when natural science ruled. He became an exotic frontiersman, the “American woodsman,” a persona disparaged by Philadelphians but enthusiastically embraced by the British and other Europeans. He was “simple intelligent,” as one of his English admirers liked to characterize him. Indeed, a rara avis (rare bird), he described himself: “I measured five feet, ten and one half inches [he was shorter], was of fair mien, and quite a handsome figure. . . .” In reality, he was larger than life.