John James Audubon
Plate 237: Great Esquimaux Curlew
From Birds of America
Aquatint engraving with original hand color
Paper size: 25 1/2”h x 36”w
London: Robert Havell, Jr., 1827-38
Born in Haiti, John James Audubon spent his youth in France, where he studied for a time under Jacques Louis David. Returning to America in 1803, he embarked upon a series of ill-fated ventures as a farmer, merchant, and portrait painter. Yet none of these occupations engaged Audubon as much as his avocation: the search for birds and the studies and drawings that he made to record his discoveries and observations. A tireless entrepreneur, Audubon devoted himself to an unprecedented project, becoming the first to attempt the seemingly insurmountable task of documenting all the bird life of North America. This task grew out of a genuine and passionate interest in his subjects, and Audubon determined not only to complete a project that no one else had undertaken, but to approach it in an entirely innovative manner. The artist's tireless efforts and remarkable talent culminated in the publication in London of his 435-plate Birds of America (1827-1838), undoubtedly the greatest work on birds ever produced. Audubon's Birds are unparalleled by anything that preceded or followed in the history of art. The artist imbued his images with such vitality that each bird seems to rise from the page, and with such art and drama that ornithological illustration was changed indelibly. Every one of Audubon's birds symbolizes the spirit of American ingenuity and entrepreneurial instincts that fueled the project. The artist’s style and his persona were much like the European notion of America itself: ambitious, animated, larger than life. The celebration of this quintessentially American work, and the enterprising, talented artist who created it, has grown steadily since the time of its publication.
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