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Audubon, John James

Audubon, John James

(b. Les Cayes, Santo Domingo [now Haiti], 26 April 1785; d. New York, N.Y., 27 January 1851)

ornithology.

Audubon’s father was Jean Audubon, a French sea captain and planter of moderate substance in Santo Domingo; his mother was a Mlle. Jeanne(?) Rabin(e?), who died soon after his birth. In 1791, he and a half sister were sent to Nantes, where their father had already arrived, to join him and Mme. Audubon (Anne Moynet), who graciously accepted the children of her husband’s island sojourn. They were formally adopted in 1794, the boy as Jean Jacques Fougére Audubon.

Audubon’s youth at Nantes and Coūeron, where he received a minimal elementary education, was comfortable and unexceptional. In 1803 he was sent to a farm, owned by his father, in eastern Pennsylvania and entrusted to the care of good friends. There his boyhood interest in birds—especially in drawing them—was intensified. In 1808 he married Lucy Bakewell, daughter of a prosperous neighbor, and moved to the new settlement of Louisville, Kentucky, where Audubon was to share in running a store.

Audubon had no formal training in natural history, having had only a brief acquaintance (upon revisiting France in 1805) with the obscure naturalist Charles d’Orbigny and a period in New York as a taxidermist under the many-faceted Samuel L. Mitchell (later founder of the Lyceum of Natural History). As an artist he was equally untutored (a persistent legend that he had briefly studied under Jacques Louis David seems to lack foundation). Marginally literate, Audubon had only hunting skill, undisciplined curiosity, great latent artistic power, and unfailing energy. He worked hard on his bird drawings, however, and developed a useful method of mounting dead birds on wires as an aid to delineation—a technique invaluable in a day without binoculars or cameras.

Between 1808 and 1819 Audubon failed as merchant and miller in both Louisville and Henderson, Kentucky, but in these formative years he ranged widely, from Pittsburgh as far west as Ste. Genevieve (now in Missouri). The country, if not untouched, was mostly unspoiled wilderness teeming with birds as little known to science as to him. He hunted and drew, sporadically at first, innocent of such patchy and uncertain knowledge as the few extant, relevant books would have given him. In common with not a few better-educated naturalists of the time, Audubon lacked formal method. He merely sought birds new to him, and shot and painted them, sometimes repeatedly, often substituting improved efforts for old.

Audubon briefly met the distinguished ornithologist Alexander Wilson at Louisville in 1810, and saw the first two (of nine) volumes of the artist–author’s pioneer American Ornithology (he later implied, perhaps correctly, that his own drawings were, even at that time, better than Wilson’s). Perhaps the idea of publication first entered his mind on this occasion, yet not until 1820, after going bankrupt, did Audubon set out by flatboat for Louisiana, with the single goal of enriching his portfolio of bird pictures. He would support himself precariously as itinerant artist and tutor, leaving much of the burden of supporting herself and their two sons to Lucy.

For the first time Audubon began a regular journal, some of which is extant. The journal of 1820 (the original of which survives) is a disorderly, semiliterate document. Like all the rest—the later ones are more articulate—it combines daily events, impressions of people and countryside, and random notes on birds encountered. These journals are valuable to ornithologists as checks on the formal texts that followed. Often more informative than the latter, they are nevertheless marked by lack of detail, imprecision, and not infrequent discrepancies. Audubon never kept a full, orderly record of his observations on birds, and in formal writing he obviously relied as often on memory as on the sketchy notes he kept.

In 1821–1824, chiefly in Louisiana and Mississippi, Audubon came into his full powers as a gifted painter of birds and master of design. There would be many more pictures, but he would never improve upon the best of those years. Neither, although he would acquire a modicum of worldliness and a veneer of zoological sophistication, would his working methods and descriptive skills be basically changed. Whatever Audubon in essence was to be, he was by 1824.

In that year Audubon sought publication of his work in Philadelphia and New York. This failing, he traveled to England in 1826. There, finding support, subscribers, and skilled engravers, he brought out the 435 huge, aquatint copperplates of The Birds of America, in many parts, over the next twelve years.

The dramatic impact of his ambitious, complex pictures and a romantic image as “the American woodsman” secured Audubon entry into a scientific community much preoccupied with little-known lands. He met the leaders of society and science and was elected to the leading organizations, including the Royal Society of London. Among his friends were the gifted ornithologist William Swainson, from whom he learned some niceties of technical ornithology, and the orderly, brilliant Scottish naturalistanatomist William MacGillivray. The text for Audubon’s pictures, separately produced at Edinburgh, emerged as the five-volume Ornithological Biography. MacGillivray edited this for grammatical form, and he also contributed extensive anatomical descriptions to the later volumes.

Audubon’s remaining efforts were devoted to the hopeless task of including all the birds of North America in his work. To this end he made increasing efforts to obtain notes and specimens from others and to cull the growing literature. Thus, much more than the early ones, the last volumes of his work have an element of compilation. He returned several times from his publishing labors in Scotland and England for more fieldwork, visiting the Middle Atlantic states in 1829, the Southeast as far as the Florida keys in 1831–1832, part of Labrador in 1833, and as far southwest as Galveston, Texas, in 1837. After his final return to the United States in 1839, Audubon journeyed up the Missouri River to Fort Union (the site of which is now in North Dakota) in 1843, obtaining birds treated in a supplement to the small American edition of his Birds, as well as some of the mammals discussed in his Viviparous Quadrupeds, which he wrote with John Bachman. In this, his last major effort, he was considerably assisted by his sons Victor and John.

Much, if not most, of Audubon’s singularly enduring fame, which tends to cloud scientific and popular thought alike, rests on his much-debated but obviously significant efforts as an artist. (The relevancy of his established artistic stature to his scientific contribution is critical and difficult to assess, but can scarcely be ignored.) The illustration of new and little-known animals, as part of their zoological descriptions, was a characteristic and important part of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century natural history. Certainly Audubon kindled wide and enduring interest in this aspect of zoology—more, indeed, than would have been necessary for the strictly scientific appreciation of the subjects; his birds were portrayed with a flair, a concern for the living, acting animal in a suggested environment that was undreamed of before, and with a vigorous sense of drama, color, and design rarely equaled since. He had few significant predecessors and no debts in this area (only Thomas Bewick had earlier drawn—in simple woodcuts—birds as authentic). That Audubon’s pictures contained innumerable technical errors seems to be comprehended only by specialists. The facial expressions and bodily attitudes of his birds are often strikingly human, rather than avian, but this is natural enough, considering his emotional nature and lack of optical equipment; paradoxically, this kind of error may have much to do with his enduring popularity with the general public.

Other than his art—aside from the inevitable accumulation of general knowledge of the kinds, habits, and distribution of birds—Audubon produced little that was new. Even the grand scale of his work had been anticipated by Mark Catesby a century earlier and by Francois Levaillant a generation earlier. Essentially, he built on Wilson’s descriptive-anecdotal model (name the bird; say something general of its ways, habits, and haunts; and flesh out the account with a story or two of encounters with it in nature), as he states in the introduction to Volume V of the Biography. He went beyond Wilson in scope because he lived longer and had greater vigor; in point-for-point comparison, he tends to come off second best—where Wilson is dry and factual, even acerbic (but not artless), Audubon is grandiose, often irrelevant, romantic at best and florid at worst. His work, nevertheless, was the most informative available to American ornithologists between that of Alexander Wilson (as supplemented 1825–1833 by C. L. Bonaparte) and the beginning of Spencer Fullerton Baird’s vast influence around 1860. He influenced such American successors as Baird, Elliott Coues, and Robert Ridgway, however, more by kindling interest than by procedural example.

Although he possessed a good eye for specific differences and inevitably discovered a number of new forms, Audubon was not basically a systematist; the classification of his Synopsis (1839), which ordered the randomly discussed birds of the Biography, is routine. As a theoretician he fared little better, being distinctly inferior to Gilbert White, who wrote half a century earlier and without pretension (see Audubon’s curiously labored and undistinguished discussion of why birds do not need to migrate, in Biography, V, 442–445).

That Audubon possessed an original mind is shown, however, by a penchant (unfortunately little exploited) for experiment. As a young man in Pennsylvania he marked some phoebes with colored thread and recovered individuals after a year, thus anticipating bird banding by more than half a century. With Bachman in 1832, he conducted experiments designed to test the ability of the turkey vulture to locate its food by smell. The ingenious experiments lacked adequate controls and produced erroneous (though long credited) results.

In assessing Audubon, whose firm grip on the popular imagination has scarcely lessened since 1826, we must as historians of science seriously ask who would remember him if he had not been an artist of great imagination and flair. Not only does Audubon’s artistic stature seem to dwarf his scientific stature, but the latter would probably be still less had he not been a painter expected to provide text for his paintings. The chances seem to be very good that had he not been an artist, he would be an unlikely candidate for a dictionary of scientific biography, if remembered to science at all.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. Nearly all the paintings for The Birds of America are at the New-York Historical Society, and have been reproduced by modern methods in The Original Water-color Paintings by John James Audubon for The Birds of America (New York, 1966). Miscellaneous additional paintings are cited by biographers listed below.

Audubon’s books are The Birds of America, 435 aquatint copperplate engravings, 4 vols. without text (Edinburgh-London, 1827–1838); Ornithological Biography, 5 vols. (Edinburgh, 1831–1839); Synopsis of the Birds of North America (Edinburgh, 1839); The Birds of America, 7 vols. (New York-Philadelphia, 1840–1844), which combines the text of Ornithological Biography with inferior, much reduced, and sometimes altered copies of the plates of the 1st ed. of The Birds of America; and Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, 3 vols. plates (New York, 1845–1848) and 3 vols. text (New York, 1846–1854), subsequent eds. (to at least 1865) combine text and reduced plates (plates by J. J. and J. W. Audubon; text by J. J. Audubon and John Bachman).

Audubon’s comparatively few short articles in periodical literature are cited by biographers listed below.

The Life and Adventures of John James Audubon, written by Charles Coffin Adams from materials provided by Mrs. Audubon, Robert Buchanan, ed. (London, 1868), and its variant text, The Life of John James Audubon, Lucy Audubon, ed. (New York, 1869), contain the sole (but doubtless considerably modified) surviving record of Audubon’s trip to Ste. Genevieve in 1810–1811 (pp. 25–33 in the 1868 version; 1869 version not seen) and other matter; Maria R. Audubon’s Audubon and His Journals, E. Coues, ed. (New York, 1897), presents the only surviving version of the Labrador, Missouri River, and European journals. There is also a painstaking transcript of the extant Journal of John James Audubon Made During His Trip to New Orleans in 1820–21 (Boston, 1929).

II. Secondary Literature. The biographies cited below all contain extensive bibliographies that collectively provide detailed collations of Audubon’s major works, elucidate the complexities of later editions and imprints, and give access to all but the most recent literature on the subject.

Lesser biographies and much miscellany are cited in F. H. Herrick’s Audubon the Naturalist, 2nd ed., rev. (New York, 1938), still the basic and most extensive source but now outdated in some particulars by Ford; in S. C. Arthur’s Audubon, an Intimate Life of the American Woodsman (New Orleans, 1937), which includes some sources not cited elsewhere; and in A. Ford’s John James Audubon (Norman, Okla., 1964), which contains extensive new information on his parentage and early life in France. The popular John James Audubon by A. B. Adams (New York, 1966) contains some new sources and insights.

Searching appraisal of Audubon as an ornithologist may be found in the historical introduction to A. Newton’s A Dictionary of Birds (London, 1896), p. 24; in E. Stresemann’s preeminent Die Entwicklung der Ornithologie (Berlin, 1951), pp. 407–409; and in W. E. C. Todd’s exhaustive Birds of the Labrador Peninsula (Toronto–Pittsburgh, 1963), pp. 731–732, 742, a detailed evaluation of his work in Labrador. An extensive critique of Audubon as a bird painter is given in R. M. Mengel’s “How Good Are Audubon’s Bird Pictures in the Light of Modern Ornithology?,” in Scientific American, 216 , no. 5 (1967), 155–159.

Robert M. Mengel

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"Audubon, John James." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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John James Audubon

John James Audubon

The work of American artist and ornithologist John James Audubon (1785-1851) was the culmination of the work of natural history artists who tried to portray specimens directly from nature. He is chiefly remembered for his "Birds of America."

When John James Audubon began his work in the first decade of the 19th century, there was no distinct profession of "naturalist" in America. The men who engaged in natural history investigations came from all walks of life and generally financed their work—collecting, writing, and publication—from their own resources. The American continent, still largely unexplored, offered a fertile field, giving the amateur an unrivaled opportunity to make a genuine contribution to science—for an afternoon walk in the woods might reveal a hitherto unknown species of bird, plant, or insect to the practiced eye. Especially fortunate was the man with artistic ability, for there was an intense popular interest in the marvels of nature during this, the romantic, era; and anyone who could capture the natural beauty of wild specimens was certain to take his place among the front ranks of those recognized as "men of science." This is the context in which Audubon worked and in which he became known as America's greatest naturalist—a title which modern scholars using other standards invariably deny him.

Audubon was born in San Domingo (now Haiti) on April 26, 1785, the illegitimate son of a French adventurer and a woman called Mademoiselle Rabin, about whom little is known except that she was a Creole of San Domingo and died soon after her son's birth. Audubon's father had made his fortune in San Domingo as a merchant, planter, and dealer in slaves. In 1789 Audubon went with his father and a half sister to France, where they joined his father's wife. The children were legalized by a regular act of adoption in 1794.

Life in France and Move to America

Audubon's education, arranged by his father, was that of a well-to-do young bourgeois; he went to a nearby school and was also tutored in mathematics, geography, drawing, music, and fencing. According to Audubon's own account, he had no interest in school, preferring instead to fish, hunt, and collect curiosities in the field. Left to the supervision of his indulgent stepmother most of the time, while his father served as a naval officer for the republic, Audubon became a spoiled, willful youth who managed to resist all efforts either to educate or discipline him. When residence at a naval base under his father's direct supervision failed to have any effect, he was sent briefly to Paris to study art, but this disciplined study also repelled him.

With the collapse of a large part of his income following the rebellion in San Domingo, the elder Audubon decided to send his son to America, where he owned a farm near Philadelphia. At first the boy lived with friends of his father and they tried to teach him English and otherwise continue his education, but after a time he demanded to be allowed to live on his father's farm, which was being managed by a tenant. There Audubon continued his undisciplined ways, living the life of a country gentleman— fishing, shooting, and developing his skill at drawing birds, the only occupation to which he was ever willing to give persistent effort. He developed the new technique of inserting wires into the bodies of freshly killed birds in order to manipulate them into natural positions for his sketching. He also made the first banding experiments on the young of an American wild bird, in April 1804.

Business Career

In 1805, after a prolonged battle with his father's business agent in America, Audubon returned briefly to France, where he formed a business partnership with Ferdinand Rozier, the son of one of his father's associates. Together the two returned to America and tried to operate a lead mine on the farm. Then in August 1807 the partners decided to move to the West. There followed a series of business failures, in Louisville, Henderson, and other parts of Kentucky, caused largely by Audubon's preference for roaming the woods rather than keeping the store.

During this period he married Lucy Bakewell. After the failures with Rozier, Audubon, in association with his brother-in-law, Thomas Bakewell, and others, attempted several different enterprises, the last being a steam grist and lumber mill at Henderson. In 1819 this enterprise failed and Audubon was plunged into bankruptcy, left with only the clothes he wore, his gun, and his drawings. This disaster ended his business career.

For a time Audubon did crayon portraits at $5 a head, then he moved to Cincinnati, where he became a taxidermist in the Western Museum recently founded by Dr. Daniel Drake. In 1820 the possibility of publishing his bird drawings occurred to him; and he set out down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, exploring the country for new birds and paying his expenses by painting portraits. For a while he supported himself in New Orleans by tutoring and painting; then his wife obtained a position as a governess and later opened a school for girls. Thereafter she was the family's main support while Audubon tried to have his drawings published.

"Birds of America"

In 1824 Audubon went to Philadelphia to seek a publisher, but he encountered the opposition of friends of Alexander Wilson, the other pioneer American ornithologist, with whom he had had a bitter rivalry dating back to a chance encounter in his store in 1810. He finally decided to raise the money for a trip to Europe, where he was assured he would find a greater interest in his subject. He arrived at Liverpool in 1826, then moved on to Edinburgh and to London, being favorably received and obtaining subscribers for his volumes in each city. Audubon finally reached an agreement with a London engraver, and in 1827 Birds of America began to appear in "elephant folio" size. It took 11 years in all for its serial publication and subsequent reprintings. The success of Audubon's bird drawings brought him immediate fame, and by 1831 he was acclaimed the foremost naturalist of his country. This title was bestowed upon him despite the fact that he possessed no formal scientific training and no aptitude for taxonomy (the Latin nomenclature and the scientific indentification of most of the species in Birds of America is largely the work of a collaborator). He had, however, succeeded in giving the world the first great collection of American birds, drawn in their natural habitats with reasonable fidelity to nature.

With his great work finally finished in 1838, and the Ornithological Biography (a text commentary) in publication, Audubon returned to America to prepare a "miniature" edition. Simultaneously, he began to prepare, in collaboration with John Bachman, Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (2 vols., 1842-1845). Audubon himself completed only about half the drawings in this last work; his powers failed during his last few years and his son contributed the remainder.

Final Years

With old age—and success—came a more kindly attitude toward his former rivals. In 1841 he bought an estate on the Hudson River and settled down to advise and encourage young scientists. It was during this period that the romantic picture of Audubon as the "American Woodsman," the revered and adored sage and patron saint of the birds, began to emerge. (This image was kept alive by his daughter and granddaughter until 1917, when F. H. Herrick published the first critical biography of the artist-naturalist.) After several years of illness, Audubon suffered a slight stroke in January 1851, followed by partial paralysis and great pain, and died on the 27th.

Further Reading

Alice E. Ford, John James Audubon (1964), is a good biography by an art historian; Alexander B. Adams, John James Audubon (1966), gives a meticulous year-by-year chronicle of his activities. An earlier work, Francis H. Herrick, Audubon the Naturalist (2 vols., 1917), is still valuable for the scientific side. All of the earlier biographies, based on the account by Audubon's wife, are highly romanticized. Useful for background information on this period in American natural history is William M. and Mabel S. C. Smallwood, Natural History and the American Mind (1941). George H. Daniels, American Science in the Age of Jackson (1968), discusses the general scientific frame of reference. □

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Audubon, John James

John James Audubon

Born: April 26, 1785
Les Cayes, Saint Dominigue (French colony)
Died: January 27, 1851
New York, New York

French-born American artist and ornithologist

American artist and ornithologist (one who studies birds) John James Audubon was a leading natural history artist who made drawings of birds directly from nature. He is mainly remembered for his Birds of America series.

Early life and move to France

John James Audubon was born in Saint Dominigue (now Haiti) on April 26, 1785. He was the son of Jean Audubon, a French adventurer, and Mademoiselle Rabin, about whom little is known except that she was a Creole and died soon after her son's birth. Audubon was an illegitimate child, meaning that his father was not married to his mother. Audubon's father had made his fortune in San Domingo as a merchant, a planter, and a dealer of slaves. In 1789 Audubon went with his father and a half sister to France, where they joined his father's wife. Their father and his wife adopted the children in 1794.

Audubon's education was arranged by his father. He was sent to a nearby school and was tutored in mathematics, geography, drawing, music, and fencing. According to Audubon's own account, he had no interest in school, preferring instead to fish, hunt, and explore the outdoors. He was left with his stepmother most of the time while his father served as a naval officer. Audubon became a spoiled, stubborn youth who managed to resist all efforts to both educate him and keep him under control. When residence at a naval base under his father's direct supervision failed to have any effect, he was sent briefly to Paris to study art, but he disliked that also.

Business career in America

Audubon's father decided to send his son to America, where he owned a farm near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At first the boy lived with friends of his father. They tried to teach him English and other things, but after a time he demanded to live on his father's farm. There Audubon continued living the life of a country gentlemanfishing, shooting, and developing his skill at drawing birds, the only occupation to which he was ever willing to give effort. When Audubon began his work in the early nineteenth century, there was no such profession as a "naturalist" in America. The men who engaged in natural history investigations came from all walks of life and paid for their workcollecting, writing, and publicationfrom their own resources. Audubon developed a system of inserting wires into the bodies of freshly killed birds in order to move them into natural poses for his sketches.

In 1805 Audubon returned briefly to France after a long battle with his father's business agent in America. While in France he formed a business partnership with Ferdinand Rozier, the son of one of his father's associates. Together the two returned to America and tried to operate a lead mine on the farm. Then in August 1807 the partners decided to move west. There followed a series of business failures in various cities in Kentucky, caused largely by Audubon's preference for roaming the woods rather than keeping the store. During this period he married Lucy Bakewell. After the failures with Rozier, Audubon, in association with his brother-in-law, Thomas Bakewell, and others, attempted to start several more businesses, the last being a lumber mill in Henderson, Kentucky. In 1819 this venture failed and Audubon was left with only the clothes on his back, his gun, and his drawings. This disaster ended his business career.

"Birds of America"

For a time Audubon made crayon portraits (drawings of individual people) for $5 per portrait. Then he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became a taxidermist (one who stuffs and mounts the skins of animals) in the Western Museum that had been recently founded by Dr. Daniel Drake. In 1820 the possibility of publishing his bird drawings occurred to him. He set out down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, exploring the country for new birds and paying his expenses by painting portraits. For a while he supported himself in New Orleans by tutoring and painting. His wife also worked as a tutor and later opened a school for girls. She became the family's main financial support while Audubon focused on publishing his drawings.

In 1824 Audubon went to Philadelphia to seek a publisher. He met with opposition, however, from the friends of Alexander Wilson (17661813), the other major American ornithologist with whom Audubon had begun a bitter rivalry in 1810. He finally decided to raise the money for a trip to Europe, where he felt he would find greater interest in his drawings. He arrived in Liverpool, England, in 1826, then moved on to Edinburgh, Scotland, and to London, England, signing up subscribers for his volumes in each city. Audubon finally reached an agreement with a London publisher, and in 1827 volumes of Birds of America began to appear. It took eleven years in all for the publication and reprintings of all the volumes.

The success of Audubon's bird drawings brought him immediate fame, and by 1831 he was considered the leading naturalist of his country, despite the fact that he possessed no formal scientific training. There was an intense popular interest in the marvels of nature during this era. Anyone who could capture the natural beauty of wild specimens was certain to take his place among the front ranks of those recognized as "men of science." Audubon had succeeded in giving the world the first great collection of American birds, drawn in their natural habitats as close to nature as possible.

Later years

With his great work finally finished in 1838, and the Ornithological Biography (a text-only book about birds) in publication, Audubon returned to America to prepare a "miniature" edition. He also began drawings for a new book (in collaboration with John Bachman), Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, for which his sons contributed many of the drawings.

In 1841 Audubon bought an estate on the Hudson River and settled down to advise and encourage young scientists. It was during this period that the romantic picture of Audubon as the "American Woodsman," the great lover of birds, began to emerge. After several years of illness, Audubon suffered a slight stroke in January 1851, followed by partial paralysis and great pain. Audubon died on January 27, 1851.

For More Information

Blaugrund, Annette. John James Audubon. New York: Abrams, 1999.

Burroughs, John. John James Audubon. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1987.

Ford, Alice. John James Audubon: A Biography. Rev. ed. New York: Abbeville Press, 1988.

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Audubon, John James

John James Audubon (ô´dəbŏn), 1785–1851, American ornithologist, b. Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (now Haiti). The illegitimate son of a French sea captain and plantation owner and a Creole chambermaid who died months after his birth, he was educated in France and in 1803 came to live in his father's estate, "Mill Grove," near Philadelphia. There he spent much time observing birds and making the first American bird-banding experiments. In 1808 he married Lucy Bakewell, whose faith and support were factors in his eventual success. Between 1808 and 1820 he lived mostly in Kentucky, frequently changing his occupation and neglecting his business to carry on his bird observations. He began painting portraits for a livelihood and descended the Mississippi to New Orleans, where for a time he taught drawing. From 1823 to 1828 his wife conducted a private school, in which he taught for a short time, in West Feliciana parish, La.

In 1826 Audubon traveled to Great Britain in search of a publisher and subscribers for his bird drawings, meeting with favorable response in Edinburgh and London. The Birds of America, in the large elephant folio size, was published in parts between 1827 and 1838, with engravings by Robert Havell, Jr. Unlike the static ornithological portraits of most of his predecessors, Audubon created drawings and paintings of birds infused with life and frequently including backgrounds that show their natural habitats. The accompanying text, called the Ornithological Biography (5 vol., 1831–39), was prepared largely in Edinburgh in collaboration with the Scottish naturalist William MacGillivray, who was responsible for its more scientific information. Extracts from Audubon's contributions, edited in 1926 by F. H. Herrick as Delineations of American Scenery and Character, reveal his stylistic qualities and furnish many pictures of American frontier life. Audubon worked on a smaller edition of his great work and also, in collaboration with John Bachman, began The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, which was completed by his sons Victor Gifford Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon (plates, 30 parts, 1842–45; text, 3 vol., 1846–54). During these years his home was on the Hudson River in N Manhattan. While Audubon's works on bird life may not wholly satisfy either the critical artist or the meticulous scientist, their achievement in both areas is considerable. Reprinted many times, they are widely popular and remain one of the great achievements of American intellectual history.

Bibliography

See his journal (1929) and letters (1930, repr. 1969), both ed. by H. Corning; John James Audubon's Journal of 1826: Voyage to The Birds of America (2011), ed. by J. D. Patterson; biographies by A. Ford (1988) S. Streshinsky (1993), W. Souder (2004), and R. Rhodes (2004); The Art of Audubon: The Complete Birds and Mammals (1981), R. C. Tyler, ed., Audubon's Great National Work: The Royal Octavo Edition of The Birds of America (1993), A. Blaugrund and T. E. Stebbins, Jr., ed., The Watercolors for The Birds of America (1993), and S. V. Edwards, ed., Audubon: Early Drawings (2008); studies by A. J. Tyler (1937), S. C. Arthur (1937), A. E. Ford (1964), A. B. Adams (1966), F. H. Herrick (2d ed. 1938, repr. 1968), K. H. Proby (1974), and D. Hart-Davis (2004).

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Audubon, John James (1785-1851)

John James Audubon (1785-1851)

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Naturalist and artist

Background. After his death John James Audubons descendants claimed him to be the lost dauphin (prince) of France. In actuality, although his ancestry included no royalty, he did descend from French origins, the son of a sea captain and a Creole mother on the island of Santo Domingo (now Haiti). Audubon grew up near Philadelphia and developed an early interest in ornithology. After moving to Kentucky and failing in several business ventures, Audubon wandered the countryside, studying and sketching birds in their natural surroundings. When his business career ended in 1819 following bankruptcy and a brief imprisonment for debt, Audubon decided to publish a collection of paintings of North American birds. Eventually he settled in Louisiana, working as an instructor of music and drawing.

Travels and Works. Audubons drawings attracted the notice of publishers in England and Scotland, where his collection Birds of America (18261838), consisting of eighty-seven parts containing more than four hundred life-sized engravings made from his watercolors, achieved recognition as a masterpiece of natural study. With the Scottish naturalist William MacGillivray, Audubon authored an accompanying text, Ornithological Biography (18311839), a work that made him well known in the United States. Following his success, Audubon extended his zoological curiosity to other animals. He collaborated with the naturalist John Bachman to prepare a collection on quadrapeds, for which he traveled and researched extensively. In 1843 Audubon journeyed from St. Louis up the Missouri River to the mouth of the Yellowstone, where he examined and recorded natural flora and fauna. His logs formed the basis for The Vivaparous Quadrapeds of North America (18521854).

Legacy. Audubons colorful, lifelike drawings reflect his artistic talent in the naturalist school, which sought to depict panoramic landscapes and minute details of animals in their pristine states. American artists who followed Audubons style tried to combine the artists skill of visual assessment with the scientists knowledge of anatomy and botany in order to replicate nature onto a canvas. Audubons work lent itself in subsequent decades to the conservation movement. Founded in 1905, the National Audubon Society tries to advance public understanding about water, soil, and wildlife conservation. Environmentalists today recognize Audubon as an early precursor to John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and other Westerners who taught intelligent use of nature by trying to understand natures limits.

Source

John Francis McDermott, ed., Audubon in the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965).

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Audubon, John James

Audubon, John James (1785–1851) US ornithologist and artist. His remarkable series of some 400 watercolours of birds, often in action, were published in Birds of America (1827–38).

http://www.audubon.org/nas/jja.html

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