Who? John James Audubon was a French-American ornithologist, naturalist and painter. He was notable for his expansive studies documenting all types of American birds, and for his detailed illustrations that depicted the birds in their natural habitats. Audubon worked with naturalist and physician Charles-Marie D'Orbigny, who improved Audubon's taxidermy skills and taught him scientific methods of research.
"I felt an intimacy with them...bordering on frenzy [that] must accompany my steps through life"
What? Audubon's major work, a colour-plate book entitled The Birds of America (1827–1839), is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. In it, he identified 25 new species and a number of new sub-species. Released this month by Rizzoli, Audubon's Aviary showcases for the first time 475 of the original watercolours (in remarkably pristine condition) alongside his inspirational writings. Vivid, pituresque descriptions detailing the birds he was passionate about. "I felt an intimacy with them...bordering on frenzy [that] must accompany my steps through life", he wrote.
Why? Audubon is considered America’s first great watercolorist, introducing innovative approaches developed over a lifetime of study. Even judged alongside today’s technology, his dramatic tableaux remain some of the most spectacular natural history documents and visually arresting works of art ever produced. "I am presuaded that alone in the woods, or at my work, I can make better use of the whole of myself than in any other situation, and that thereby I have lost nothing in exchanging the pleasure of studying men for that of admiring the feathered race", he wrote. The production of The Birds of America occupied twelve years of his life and cost him upwards of $100,000 (a fortune for that time).
Further Reading: Discover the ornithological sketches by Genevieve Jones, the young artist dubbed America's Other Audubon.
Text by Laura Bradley