John J. Audubon, Pl. 176 Spotted Grouse, The Birds of America, Havell edition, 1827–38, Hand-colored engraving
Acquire a superb Havell edition aquatint engraving by John J. Audubon, Plate 176, Spotted Grouse, Tetrao canadensis, available this week only at a substantial discount. 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.
Two males and two females are depicted in the size of life in their secluded habitat deep within the forest. In the Ornithological Biography, Audubon reports on coming upon the breeding grounds of the Spotted Grouse in 1832 while in Maine en route to Labrador.
"These breeding grounds I cannot better describe than by telling you that the larch forests, which are there called "Hackmetack Woods," are as difficult to traverse as the most tangled swamps of Labrador. The whole ground is covered by the most beautiful carpeting of verdant moss, over which the light-footed Grouse walk with ease, but among which we sunk at every step or two up to the waist, our legs stuck in the mire, and our bodies squeezed between the dead trunks and branches of the trees, the minute leaves of which insinuated themselves among my clothes, and nearly blinded me. We saved our guns from injury, however, and seeing some of the Spruce Partridges before they perceived us, we procured several specimens. They were in beautiful plumage, but all male birds. It is in such places that these birds usually reside, and it is very seldom that they are seen in the open grounds, beyond the borders of their almost impenetrable retreats."
He also describes this species' distinctive markings and preferred foods, such as the berries of Solomon's Seal plant (Streptopus distortus). Sollomon Seal is depicted in the plate as well as another striking woodland plant, Trillium pictum.
"Among the great number, procured at all seasons of the year, which I have examined, I never found one without the rufous band at the extremity of the tail represented in the plate; nor did I see any having the terminal white spot on the upper tail-coverts exhibited in figures of this species.
Their food consists of berries of different sorts, and the young twigs and blossoms of several species of plants. In the summer and autumn I have found them gorged with the berries of the plant represented in the plate, and which is commonly called "Solomon's Seal."
Excellent condition and hand-coloring, plate dated 1833, J. Whatman paper, double-elephant size, 26.125 x 39.375 inches.
$15,600 this week only (list price $20,000). Offer expires 5-22-17.
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 Among the great number, procured at all seasons of the year, which I have examined, I never found one without the rufous band at the extremity of the tail represented in the plate; nor did I see any having the terminal white spot on the upper tail-coverts exhibited in figures of this species.
Their food consists of berries of different sorts, and the young twigs and blossoms of several species of plants. In the summer and autumn I have found them gorged with the berries of the plant represented in the plate, and which is commonly called "Solomon's Seal." 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.