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Monday, June 6, 2011

Offering of the Day: "The Carolina Parrot" John James Audubon (1785-1851)

The Carolina Parrot”
From The Birds of America
Aquatint engraving with original hand color
Edinburgh and London, 1827-38

The Birds of America is the seminal work of John James Audubon and has been hailed as both a work of outstanding beauty and ornithological interest. Its pre-eminence was established by Audubon's extensive and meticulous study of every bird that he delineated, reproducing its image to life-size and within a natural setting. Audubon's masterpiece is undoubtedly the greatest work on birds ever produced.

The 'American Woodsman,' as he liked to be called, was born in Santo Domingo during 1785 and was the son of a French naval officer.  His youth was spent in France where he studied for a time with Jacques Louis David, but in 1803, at the age of eighteen, he was sent to a farm belonging to his father near Philadelphia.  His venture into farming was unsuccessful as were his experiments as a merchant and portrait painter.  Instead, his passion became ornithology and for the next two decades his occupation became the study and recording of the different birds of America.

Audubon's tireless efforts and remarkable talent culminated in the publication in London of the first edition of his 435-plate book. It took eleven years for the whole work to be published and little less than two hundred complete sets were made.  The work was sold by subscription in parts of five plates at a time, but after the first ten plates had appeared, the colorists employed by the Edinburgh firm, Lizars, failed him and Audubon continued publication in London. Robert Havell and his son were to complete the rest of the aquatints.

The print of the Carolina Parrot is a particularly engaging example of Audubon's work, most particularly because the bird is now extinct.  Prized for its exquisite plumage and loathed for its fondness for arable crops and fruit trees, the parakeet stood little chance against the aggressions of man.  These birds were not hard to kill en masse as once a few members of the flock had been shot, their comrades’ fatal habit of not deserting the stricken flock member allowed for them to be wiped out in their entirety. Indeed, its extinction was looming even during Audubon's time as he was to write: "Our Parakeets are rapidly diminishing in number, and in some districts, where twenty-five years ago they were plentiful, scarcely any are now to be seen."  The last of these magnificent birds was seen in 1920 in an almost inaccessible southern swamp in the Florida Everglades.

The exquisite print is based on a painting composed in Louisiana about 1825.  Audubon depicted the bird feeding on the plant commonly called the Cocklebur which grew in profusion in the Ohio and Mississippi deltas.  The male and female of the species are depicted as well as their young.  During the first season of life the parrot is completely green and the tail is comparatively short.  During the following two years its plumage develops and the male bird grows to a slightly larger size than that of the female. The male parakeet displays a more glorious plumage than its partner but has twelve tail feathers, two less than the female.  Audubon's Carolina Parrot is a masterpiece from his illustrious work, Birds of America.  It shows the interaction of the flock within their own habitat as they feed, and displays the plumage variations between the ages and sexes.
Offered at $190,000

Arader Galleries intends to have the lowest prices on ABE, Alibris, Biblio, AE, and Artnet while maintaining the highest levels of quality in the business for every offering. To inquire or view the complete offering, please contact our curators at info@aradernyc.com or call our 72nd Street NYC gallery at (212) 628-3668                  

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