Who was John James Audubon?

Who was John James Audubon?

Born on his father’s sugar plantation in Haiti in 1785, John James Audubon was raised in France by his father and French step-mother, following the death of his own mother. In 1803, Audubon’s father sent his son to the US to avoid conscription in the Napoleonic Wars. This was a decision that would change the course of Audubon’s life forever. 

The Birds of America

The birds of America in Teylers Museum Haarlem. Exhibition Vogelpracht
Mrs B. Pluim admiring the original Birds of America in Teylers Museum The Netherlands

In America, Audubon began his mission to study, draw and catalogue North America’s native birds – a project which would later become his greatest work, the book The Birds of America.

Audubon's unconventional methods

Ferruginous Thrush Special Edition eritage Prints Audubon Birds of America. Giclee Print
Ferruginous Thrush Plate 116

Using his own unconventional methods, Audubon worked tirelessly to draw birds in their natural poses. Having killed the bird, he used wires to hold the bird in a lifelike pose, often depicting them feeding or hunting. This was a very different approach other artists at that time who opted to draw stuffed birds in rigid poses. 

Audobon’s ambition and unorthodox methods made him unpopular in the American art world. He discovered no engraver or publisher would work with him.

Selling artwork and raising funds

John James Audubon Birds of America Plate 167 Key West Dove Giclée Print
Key West Dove Plate 167

Undeterred, Audubon looked further afield, travelling to England in 1826. Here he was received warmly by the British who loved Audubon’s depictions of North American birds and the landscapes in which they lived. 

Audubon toured England and Scotland, selling subscriptions for his artwork, raising the funds needed to publish his masterpiece Birds of America.

Identifying new birds

Audubon Birds of America. Hooded Warbler. Plate 110. Heritage Prints. Giclee Print
Hooded Warbler. Plate 110.
Audubon Birds of America - Blue Bird Plate 112 Giclee Print Heritage Prints
Blue-bird Plate 113.
Audubon Birds of America Yellow-throated Vireo Plate 119 Heritage Prints. Giclee Print
Yellow-throated Vireo. Plate 119.

Audubon returned to America in 1829 and continued his expeditions, finding and drawing yet more birds. In his lifetime, Audubon identified 25 new bird species. He also is thought to be the first person in America to band birds, and tying yarn to their legs to prove that they returned to the same nesting spots each year. 

In 1841, Audubon bought a 20-acre estate in northern Manhattan. By 1848, his health was beginning to fail. Audubon died at his family home in January 1851.

Teylers Museum

Heritage Prints. Founder Gies Pluim in Teylers Museum
Founder Gies Pluim in Teylers Museum Haarlem, The Netherlands.

On 26th August 1833 Victor Gifford Audubon sold a complete set of the Birds of America to the Teylers Museum in Haarlem. Thanks to the cooperation with Teylers Museum, Heritage Prints has direct access to the set of the original engravings held by the museum.