John James Audubon
Plate I -- The Wild Turkey -- from Birds of America
Hand colored copper plate engraving: 39 ¾" x 27"
William Lizars: Edinburgh, 1826
When John James Audubon's subscribers to the Birds of America series received the first of many installations of five engravings, their gaze first encountered the striking, physically dominating, brightly colored American Wild Turkey, Male. It was like nothing they had ever seen, and they were enthralled. The Wild Turkey is widely considered the crowning achievement of Audubon's monumental Birds of America. The image has come to represent not just the series in its entirety, but to many, it symbolizes the spirit of American ingenuity and entrepreneurial instincts that fueled the project. Audubon was the first to undertake the unprecedented and ambitious task of attempting to document all bird species of the United States, and his tireless efforts and remarkable talent culminated in the publication of his Birds of America (1827-1838). Undoubtedly the greatest work on birds ever produced, its acclaim has grown steadily in the century and a half since the artist first issued his 435, larger than life, stunning birds.
Audubon had initially selected the Scottish printer William Lizars as his publisher. The Wild Turkey was the first plate to be engraved, and Audubon selected it carefully, as it would be the first image seen by his subscribers. In his journals he wrote of the extensive work he had put into the composition. The bird was distinct from any European species, and so ubiquitous that Benjamin Franklin had proposed it as the American national symbol, preferring it to the eagle. Not only is the symbolism of the Wild Turkey significant, but artistically, it is perhaps Audubon's masterpiece. The gigantic bird appears barely to fit within the confines of the two dimensional page, assuming a life and vitality that impels it into the viewer's space. Lizars's masterful use of copper plate engraving adds an especially detailed and precise aspect to the image, enhancing an appearance of three dimensionality. The first plate to be engraved for Audubon's magnificent Birds of America, more care was lavished in its production than possibly any other illustration. This quintessential American bird, by a cornerstone American artist, represents an excellent opportunity for any aspiring or established collector. This particular example is even more remarkable because it is one of only roughly ten that were printed by Lizars. After Havell took over the project, he printed 250 more examples that retained Lizars's name on the plate, but those actually issued by the Scottish printer are among the most desirable, and even more distinguished for their extreme rarity.
Offered at $235,000