357: After John James Audubon (1785-1851)
after John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Common Gull, 1834
Hand-colored engraving, 21 by 24.75 inch
Engraved, Printed, & Colored by R. Havell, 1834. lower right "Drawn From Nature by J.J. Audubon, F.R.S.F.I.S." lower left "Common Gull Larus Canus 1. Adult 2. Young" lower center "No. 43" upper right "Plate CCXII" upper left Audubon's single great passion was the observation and description of birds. The illegitimate son of a French sea captain and a Creole chambermaid, he spent most of his time observing and drawing birds in the Ohio Valley region, as well as the swamps and bayous of the Mississippi Valley. Audubon drew, painted, and wrote. He hunted, trapped and even tried domesticating some of the hundreds of birds he studied. Fascinated by the American wild turkey, great white heron, and Canada goose, Audubon decided to publish a great ornithological treatise describing with illustrations and text every known North American bird in their natural habitat and life-size. An undertaking as grand as the one Audubon envisioned was far from easy. Publishing was enormously expensive and paper and the production of illustrations was costly. To finance his endeavor Audubon offered his "Birds of America" by subscription, issuing the illustrated plates and accompanying text in groups of five. Unable to find an American publishing house that could take on a project of this magnitude, he traveled to England to find an engraver who was able to translate his great vision onto paper. The first ten plates (Plates 1-10) were engraved by William Lizars of Scotland (1788-1859). However, his colorists went on strike and Lizars was unable to continue. Audubon found another equally talented and like minded engraver in Robert Havell, Jr. of London (1793-1878), whose meticulous workmanship, attention to detail and artistic sensibility was pivotal to Audubon's great success. Havell reproduced Audubon's drawings on sheets of Whatman paper, (known as double elephant folioľa reference to their size) using aquatint engraving, a labor intensive process reserved for all but the most expensive publications. "The Birds of America" took twelve years to complete. The four volume work included four hundred thirty-five hand colored illustrations, with text issued separately in an octavo sized publication of five volumes entitled "Ornithological Biography". It is estimated that between one hundred seventy-five and two hundred copies were made in all.