Aquatint engraving with original hand color: framed size 37” x 49 1/2”
London: Robert Havell, Jr., 1827-38
The publication of John James Audubon's Birds of America represented a landmark moment, not only in the history of ornithological painting, but in the history of art. The most exhaustive project that had ever been focused on the wildlife of North America, Audubon’s monumental publication was comprised of 435 life-size images. His success was based on several factors: meticulous observation of nature, exacting draftsmanship, ceaseless travel for research, and the highest standards of production. The artist imbued his images with such vitality that each bird seems to rise from the page, and with such art and drama that natural history illustration was changed indelibly. Every one of Audubon's birds symbolizes the spirit of American ingenuity and entrepreneurial instincts that fueled the project. The celebration of this quintessentially American work, and the enterprising, talented artist who created it, has grown steadily since the time of its publication.
Audubon’s training with the great French painter Jacques Louis David manifests itself beautifully in the elegant depiction of The Passenger Pigeon. This aquatint shows the female and male of the species as they engage in courtship. The elaborate coloration of the male bird is dramatically captured, as is its long, pointed tail, giving the pigeon an elegantly elongated appearance. The deep blue-gray on the head and back, along with the richly irridescent gold and violet of the neck, are skillfully reproduced by the artist.
The early-20th century extinction of the Passenger Pigeon seems incredible considering that, at its peak, the population is believed to have constituted between twenty-five and forty percent of the birds inhabiting North America. In describing a pigeon migration viewed from near Louisville, Audubon noted: “The air was literally filled with pigeons; the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse... pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers, and continued to do so for three days in succession.” Yet over-hunting, a low breeding rate, and low reproductive potential all contributed to the dramatically rapid decline of this species. The last documented passenger pigeon died on September 1, 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens, an event that marked the species’s extinction, but also brought about awareness in the general public as to the importance of conserving wildlife in general, and endangered bird species in particular. John James Audubon's Passenger Pigeon is a valuable and striking visual memorial to this magnificent bird.
Offered at $75,000