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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Audubon of the Day: John James Audubon's Gadwall Duck


John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Plate 348: Gadwall Duck
From Birds of America
Aquatint engraving with original hand color
Paper size: 38 1/8 x 24 5/8 inches
Framed size 49 1/2 x 37 inches
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. He came to America in 1803, to engage in a series of unlucky ventures as a farmer, merchant and portrait painter. 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. He eventually conceived a plan to make his passion into a financially rewarding pursuit - the publication of his studies into a monumental engraved series. During the years 1827 to 1838, both in person and by transatlantic correspondence, Audubon supervised the production of the 435 plates of his masterpiece, the Birds of America. The most distinguished names in Europe and America were on the list of Audubon's subscribers, including King George IV of England, King Charles I of France, Daniel Webster and the distinguished institutions of the western world. Audubon was the first to undertake the unprecedented and ambitious task of attempting to document all the bird species of the United States, and his tireless efforts and remarkable talent culminated in an unprecedented success. Undoubtedly the greatest work on birds ever produced, its acclaim has grown steadily during the century and a half since the artist first issued his 435, larger than life, stunning birds.

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