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

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 Birds of America.

Audubon's unconventional methods

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 to 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 to publisher would work with him.

Selling artwork and raising funds

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 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.