Audubon’s “American Flamingo” & “Snowy Heron”

Robert Havell after John James Audubon. American Flamingo. 1838. Hand-colored etching and aquatint on Whatman paper plate from “The Birds of America” [Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.] Robert Havell after John James Audubon. Snowy Heron, or White Egret. 1835. Hand-colored etching and aquatint on Whatman paper plate from “The Birds of America” [Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.]

The modest little heath hen drawn for a bank note made me think of John James Audubon’s grander bird portraits of the American Flamingo and Snowy Heron (Snowy egret). Both images come from individual plates from Birds of America in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The NGA identifies the artists as “Robert Havell after John James Audubon” and the media as “hand-colored etching and aquatint on Whatman paper plate.” The engravings were made in 1838 and 1835, respectively.

According to Wikipedia:

The Birds of America is the title of a book by naturalist and painter John James Audubon, containing paintings and scientific description of a wide variety of birds of the United States. It was first published as a series of sections between 1827 and 1838.

The work consists of hand-colored, life-size prints made from engraved plates measuring around 39 by 26 inches. The original edition was engraved in aquatint by Robert Havell Sr. and son, Robert Havell Jr.; known as the “Double Elephant folio”, it is often regarded as the greatest picture book ever produced. A copy in excellent condition sold at Christie’s in March of 2000 for $8,802,500, is still (as of 2007[update]) a world record for any printed book.

All 435 of John James Audubon’s known extant watercolors preparatory for Birds of America are housed at the New-York Historical Society in New York City. There are 119 complete copies of the Double Elephant Folio in existence today; less than a dozen of these are in private hands.[1]

See the University of Pittsburgh digital edition of The Birds of America.

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