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In spite of his father’s help in setting him up in a lucrative career in lead mining, John James Audubon’s (1785-1851) true professional calling didn’t come to fruition until 1826, when he was a 41-year-old family man with two living children. Audubon was fortunate to have a family who not only supported him in business, but his artistic talents were also encouraged and nurtured by his parents and his understanding wife. Audubon spent many months and years on numerous trips to draw and document the birds of America. He availed himself to art lessons and new painting techniques in addition to taxidermy and preservation skills to stage the species as models for his drawings. Many times he’d earn money by drawing portraits or landscapes for wealthy families while he was on his travels. His very supportive wife, Lucy Bakewell Audubon, was a trained teacher, and she “took on” students to bring in money during her husband’s explorations.
Over the years, Audubon destroyed many of his earlier drawings as he advanced his skills in documenting birds, but, finally, in 1824 he had over 300 drawings collected, returning to Philadelphia to seek a publisher for his art. Being rebuffed by the scientists at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, he couldn’t find a publisher. In 1826, with his collection in tow, he sailed from New Orleans to Liverpool, England in search of a publisher. The British couldn’t get enough of his images of “backwoods America and its natural attractions,” and were “met with great acceptance.” He soon raised enough money to begin publishing his now 435 hand-colored, life-size prints made from engraved copper plates. They were printed on double elephant sheets measuring 39” x 26”, making for a huge folio. This highly successful initial edition of Birds of America was engraved in aquatint by Robert Havel, Jr.
Following the success of Birds of America, Audubon decided to issue a smaller version that would be more accessible to the public and would include additional, newly-discovered species. This second bird folio would be on 1/8 the size of paper as the larger Birds of America, with prints measuring 6 ½” x 10 ½”. He called this new endeavor The Royal Octavo Edition of Birds of America, comprising 500 lithographed and hand-colored plates by J. T. Bowen, published in 100 sets of 5 each between 1840-1844. They were sold as a subscription, which when completed filled seven volumes for the subscriber to study. Around 1200 complete sets were published during this time. John Audubon personally oversaw the publication of this first edition, serving as his own publisher.
The print that we offer is from Audubon’s First Royal Octavo Edition. It is the 10 ½” x 6 ½” Plate 278, Carolina Parrot or Parakeet. The paper is substantial, and the colors are crisp green and yellow, with soft browns on the branches; the hand-coloring was done by J. T. Bowen. At the top left is No. 56, which indicates that this was the 56th subscriber’s edition. At the bottom left it states: Drawn from Nature by J. J, Audubon, FRSFLS, which indicates that he was a Fellow, Royal Society, Fellow Linnaean Society. Bottom right: Lith’d Printed & Col’d by J. T. Bowen. Just under the bottom of a branch on the right are the initials W.H., indicating who actually traced the drawing onto the lithograph stone. It is in excellent condition with no tears or spots. This is a real treasure.
Audubon only lived long enough to oversee this project. There were several other octavo editions that were mainly supervised by Audubon’s son, but prints in subsequent editions were done with tinted lithographic-wash backgrounds, and the lettering was in block instead of italics.
We do also have another print from the 1st Royal Octavo edition, Wood Ducks (pictured in last photo).
These prints have been in demand by discriminating decorators for generations, and this would be a fabulous addition to any collection or décor. Please contact us if you have any questions. Please look at the photos closely, they are part of the description of the item. We will always consider any reasonable offer for our pieces.
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1840s Audubon 1st Royal Octavo Edition Carolina Parrot
$885 SALE PENDING
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