John J. Audubon, Pl. 391 Brant Goose, Birds of America, Havell Edition, 1827–1838, Hand-colored Engraving

$12,000 this week only (list price $18,000). Offer expires 9-18-2017

Laura Oppenheimer


John J. Audubon, Pl. 391 Brant GooseThe Birds of America, Havell edition, 1827–1838, hand-colored engraving

Acquire a superb Havell edition aquatint engraving by John J. Audubon, Plate 391, Brant GooseAnser Bernicla (Ch. Bonap.), available this week only at a substantial discount. The current name is Brant, Branta bernicla (Linn.).

In this dynamic horizontal composition, Audubon depicts a female (left) and a male goose (right) standing on rocks near the water's edge in the foreground, a large body of water and rugged mountains beyond in the distance. One notices the large male Brant Goose on the right displaying the top and underside of his wings in a graceful arc. The curves of the male's wings and neck direct the eye downward toward a confrontation between the pair of geese, their heads facing one another slightly left of center. The female's wing arc vertically in counterpoint to the male's, focusing on the drama ensuing between the male and female in an otherwise static, atmospheric landscape that imparts a sense of the immensity of the wild habitat. The palette of cream, brown, taupe, gray and blue, and the rhythm of patterns in the feathers and rippling water add to the harmonious effect of this stunning print. It has been suggested that Victor Gifford Audubon, J. J. Audubon's son, assisted in the original painting, contributing the landscape.

In the text entry in the Ornithological Biography for the Brant Goose, Audubon remarks, "I have represented a pair which were shot in spring, when their migratory movements are more regular than in autumn." Audubon shares anecdotal information provided by Thomas McCulloch, a Scottish/Canadian Presbyterian minister, professor, and naturalist he met in Pictou, Nova Scotia, in 1833. McCulloch's somewhat informal observations added to the scientific understanding of newly discovered species:

"A few years ago," Mr. THOMAS MACCULLOCH writes to me, "a Brant Goose, slightly wounded in the tip of the wing, was brought us, but it rejected sea-grass and every thing else which was offered it, and died in a few days after it came into our possession. Shortly after we procured another, which had been disabled in the same manner. Like the first it rejected every thing but water, and would certainly soon have shared the fate of its predecessor, had not my mother thrown a handful of unshelled barley into the tub of water, in which it was accustomed to swim. The grain was immediately devoured by the bird, with as much avidity as if it had been its usual fare; and during the time it remained with us, it would taste no other food. It having recovered the use of its wing, we usually placed it at night, for greater security, in a room near the one in which the man-servant slept. This arrangement, however, did not prove agreeable to all the parties concerned. Though the Brant was perfectly silent, yet the disposition for early rising which it evinced by pattering about the floor sorely disturbed the Irishman's predilection for a lengthened nap. To relieve himself from the annoyance, early one morning, when he thought there was no danger of detection, he let the bird free. It, however, no sooner found itself loose than it began to exult most loudly in its liberty, and my mother, who was awakened by the singular and unusual noise, rose and lifted the blind, just as it took wing for the water, where doubtless it soon rejoined its former companions. The time it was in our possession was too short to admit of many observations being made on its habits. We remarked, however, that it was by no means deficient in courage. When approached, it would lower its head, writhe its glossy serpent-like neck, and, with open month, protruded tongue, and eyes flashing with rage, prepare to defend itself, emitting at the same time a strong hissing sound. This was the only noise which it made while in our possession, and until the morning of its departure it was never heard to use the hoarse call of the species."

A richly hand-colored engraving in pristine condition. Engraved, printed, and colored by R. Havell & Son in London, J. Whatman paper, 1837, double-elephant size, 25.5 x 38.625 inches.

Renowned for his legendary undertaking to depict all the birds of America, the images John James Audubon (1785–1851) created for his great work, the Birds of America, are icons of nineteenth-century art. 

References: An Index and Guide to Audubon's Birds of America, Susanne M. Low, 1988, page 166; Ornithological Biography, or an account of the habits of the Birds of the United States of  America, John James Audubon, 1838, Vol. IV, page 503; The Original Water-color Paintings by John James Audubon for the Birds of America, Vol. II, 1966, Plate 312, Brant.

 $12,000 this week only (list price $18,000). Offer expires 9-18-17.

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Audubon explored the American backwoods and wilderness to discover, record, and illustrate its avian life. America’s most revered artist-naturalist was born in Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti), the bastard son of Jean Audubon, a French sea captain. The embarrassing fact of his illegitimate birth was hidden by his family until well after Audubon’s death. To escape a slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue, in 1791 the handsome young boy was brought to his father’s home in Nantes, France, where he was raised and cherished by his father’s childless wife, Anne Moynet. In 1803, to avoid conscription in Napoleon’s army, his father sent him to manage Mill Grove, a farm he owned near Philadelphia.

From childhood, Audubon was fascinated by nature, drawing  and studying birds during extended “rambles” in the woods. However, it was not until he was the father of two sons of his own that Audubon fully embraced the life of an artist-naturalist with the support of his devoted wife, Lucy Audubon. In 1820, Audubon left his family in Cincinnati, embarking with a young apprentice, Joseph R. Mason. They crossed the Ohio River to the Mississippi on a flatboat to New Orleans. Mason worked with Audubon from 1820 until 1822, contributing mostly botanical elements to about 55 of Audubon’s paintings. Later in the project, the artists George Lehman, Maria Martin, and his sons Victor Gifford Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon assisted John James Audubon with botanical backgrounds.

In 1826, he brought his portfolio of primarily watercolor paintings to Great Britain where his work was applauded by the scientific community and admired by the elite classes. There he met the engraver Robert Havell, who was able to undertake engraving Audubon’s great work in the size of life. Together with Havell, J. J. Audubon created the lavish double-elephant-size folio of The Birds of America—completed with the help of family, friends, and other capable assistants.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish engraver W. H. Lizars began to produce the very first plates in 1826. However, after the completion of only ten plates, Lizars’ colorists went on strike. Audubon continued his pursuit in London with Robert Havell, who published The Birds of America from 1827 to 1838Twelve years in the making, the completed work comprised 435 hand-colored engravings. Havell also retouched Lizars’ original efforts, adding aquatint to the engraving and etching. On those plates, Havell’s name appears alongside that of the Scottish engraver’s.

Audubon sold 186 subscriptions to the complete folio of The Birds of America, each of which commanded the princely sum of $1,000—­the cost of a substantial home at that time. Published on sheets measuring 261/2 by 39 inches, called “double elephant” by the printing trade, the resultant aquatint engravings depict each subject in its actual size and are among the largest ever made. Still, Audubon often altered the larger birds’ natural postures, creatively composing the figure to fit within the dimensions of the sheet.

Of the 186 complete sets produced, more than 100 are intact in library and museum collections worldwide. Since first produced by Havell over 175 years ago, few of the sets have been broken to make individual prints available for sale. Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. specializes in these rare, original engravings, maintaining an extensive inventory, many in exceptionally fine condition.

For further information or to purchase, please call the gallery at 312-642-5300.

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