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Monday, October 24, 2011

Audubon of the Day: "The Great White Heron"


John James Audubon (1785-1851)

Plate 281: The Great White Heron from The Birds of America
Aquatint engraving with original hand color
Paper size: 38 3/4” x 25 1/2”
Framed size: 37” x 49 1/2”
Robert Havell: London, 1827-1838

Audubon's "Great White Heron" is one of the masterpieces of his "Birds of America." Shown in profile as it holds a fish in its beak, the striking, enormous bird almost appears to strain the confines of the full-sheet image. Startlingly white, the heron is framed by a dramatic sky, dark with clouds. It appears to have just struck its beak into the water and now emerges with its prey. Caught in a moment of action, the bird's movement adds to the sense of drama. The curve of the bird's body is mirrored by the shape of the rock base on which it stands, while the island of Key West is visible on the horizon (in one of Audubon's few site-specific images). It is one of Audubon's most successful, refined compositions. Audubon painted the "Great White Heron" in April of 1832, during a voyage to the Florida Keys. His was the first image of the heron ever done, and by extension, it was the first glimpse Europeans had of the graceful bird. As a result of this print, which generated much interest at the time it was produced in the Birds of America Series, the great white heron was believed to be its own species. However, these striking birds belong to the same classification as the great blue heron. Audubon was so taken with this particular species that he is known to have caught several that were kept in captivity by his friend John Bachman. This particular example of Audubon's "Great White Heron" is in excellent condition, with full margins and vivid original color.

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