John James Audubon (April 26, 1785 – January 27, 1851) was an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter.
All images on Featuring Spaces are digital representations of his amazing work in the book Birds of America, a copy of which in 2010 became the most expensive book ever sold at the staggering amount of 11.5 million dollars.
He sailed from New Orleans to Liverpool on the cotton hauling ship Delos, reaching England in the autumn of 1826 with his portfolio of over 300 drawings. With letters of introduction to prominent Englishmen, Audubon gained their quick attention.
The British could not get enough of Audubon’s images of backwoods America and its natural attractions. He met with great acceptance as he toured around England and Scotland, and was lionized as “the American woodsman.” He raised enough money to begin publishing his Birds of America. This monumental work consists of 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species, made from engraved copper plates of various sizes depending on the size of the image. They were printed on sheets measuring about 39 by 26 inches (660 mm). The work contains slightly more than 700 North American bird species, of which some was based on specimens collected by fellow ornithologist John Kirk Townsend on his journey across America with Thomas Nuttall in 1834 as part of Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth’s second expedition across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
The pages were organized for artistic effect and contrasting interest, as if the reader were taking a visual tour. (Some critics thought he should have organized the plates in Linnaean order as befitting a “serious” ornithological treatise.) The first and perhaps most famous plate was the wild turkey.
The cost of printing the entire work was $115,640 (over $2,000,000 today), paid for from advance subscriptions, exhibitions, oil painting commissions, and animal skins, which Audubon hunted and sold. Audubon’s great work was a remarkable accomplishment. It took more than 14 years of field observations and drawings, plus his single-handed management and promotion of the project to make it a success.