John J. Audubon, Pl. 156 American Crow, The Birds of America, Havell edition, 1827–1838, hand-colored engraving
Acquire a superb Havell edition aquatint engraving by John J. Audubon, Plate 156, American Crow, Corvus americanus, available this week only at a substantial discount. The current scientific name is Corvus brachyrhynchos (Brehm). Audubon depicted a male crow in the size of life. "I have placed the pensive oppressed Crow of our country on a beautiful branch of a Black Walnut Tree, [Juglans nigra], loaded with nuts, on the lower twig of which I have represented the delicate nest of our Common hummingbird."
Audubon's sympathetic portrait of the American Crow is explained in the accompanying text description, where he decries the destruction of crows by farmers and others.
The Crow is an extremely shy bird, having found familiarity with man no way to his advantage. He is also cunning--at least he is so called, because he takes care of himself and his brood. The state of anxiety, I may say of terror, in which he is constantly kept, would be enough to spoil the temper of any creature. Almost every person has an antipathy to him, and scarcely one of his race would be left in the land, did he not employ all his ingenuity, and take advantage of all his experience, in counteracting the evil machinations of his enemies. I think I see him perched on the highest branch of a tree, watching every object around.
...Wherever within the Union the laws encourage the destruction of this species, it is shot in great numbers for the sake of the premium offered for each Crow's head. You will perhaps be surprised, reader, when I tell you that in one single State, in the course of a season, 40,000 were shot, besides the multitudes of young birds killed in their nests. Must I add to this slaughter other thousands destroyed by the base artifice of laying poisoned grain along the fields to tempt these poor birds? Yes, I will tell you of all this too. The natural feelings of every one who admires the bounty of Nature in providing abundantly for the subsistence of all her creatures, prompt me to do so. Like yourself, I admire all her wonderful works, and respect her wise intentions, even when her laws are far beyond our limited comprehension.
The Crow devours myriads of grubs every day of the year, that might lay waste the farmer's fields; it destroys quadrupeds innumerable, every one of which is an enemy to his poultry and his flocks. Why then should the farmer be so ungrateful, when he sees such services rendered to him by a providential friend, as to persecute that friend even to the death? Unless he plead ignorance, surely he ought to be found guilty at the bar of common sense. Were the soil of the United States, like that of some other countries, nearly exhausted by long continued cultivation, human selfishness in such a matter might be excused, and our people might look on our Crows, as other people look on theirs; but every individual in the land is aware of the superabundance of food that exists among us, and of which a portion may well be spared for the feathered beings, that tend to enhance our pleasures by the sweetness of their song, the innocence of their lives, or their curious habits. Did not every American open his door and his heart to the wearied traveller, and afford him food, comfort and rest, I would at once give up the argument; but when I know by experience the generosity of the people, I cannot but wish that they would reflect a little, and become more indulgent toward our poor, humble, harmless, and even most serviceable bird, the Crow.
A richly hand-colored engraving in pristine condition. Engraved, printed, and colored by R. Havell & Son in London, J. Whatman paper, double-elephant size, 38.625 x 25.75 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 87; Birds of America, from drawings made in the United States of America, John James Audubon, Vol. IV, 1842, pages 87–92.
$17,500 this week only (list price $22,000). Offer expires 10-16-17.
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 1838. Twelve 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.