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.

<em>Little Blue Heron (</em>Egretta caerulea<em>), Study for Havell pl. 307</em>; sketch of a second bird, ca. 1832

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Study for Havell pl. 307; sketch of a second bird, ca. 1832 Watercolor, graphite, pastel, and black ink with touches of gouache, scratching out, and selective glazing on paper, laid on card; 20 3/8 x 28 15/16 in. (51.8 x 73.5 cm) Purchased for the Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863.17.307 [with George Lehman]

<em>Blue-winged Teal (</em>Anas discors<em>), Study for Havell pl. 313</em>, 1822; 1830s

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), Study for Havell pl. 313, 1822; 1830s Watercolor, oil, pastel, black ink, and graphite with selective glazing on paper, laid on card; 19 15/16 x 28 15/16 in. (50.6 x 73.5 cm) Purchased for the Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863.17.313

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