John J. Audubon, Pl. 204 Blue Grosbeak, The Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860 chromolithograph
Acquire John James Audubon's Plate 204 Blue Grosbeak, Fringilla coerulea (Bonap.), a beautiful, richly colored chromolithograph from the Bien edition of The Birds of America—available this week only at a special price. Audubon depicted a male (1.), female (2.), with the young (3.) perched on the edge of nest. The group of colorful birds is composed on Dogwood cornus florida.
In his entry in the Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America, Audubon describes his encounter with the birds he depicted in this wonderful plate. "In the summer of 1829, I accidentally met with a nest of the birds in the State of New Jersey, a few miles only from Philadelphia. I was attracted towards it by the cries of the birds, both of which were perched on a tall hickory tree, standing on a piece of barren ground, near a swamp, well known on account of the visits it receives during the Woodcock season. I looked for the nest for some time in vain. The parents left the tree, flew about as if much alarmed and distressed, and at last alighted on the ground not far from me. Following them gradually, I saw them go up to one of their young, and on reaching the place, saw the nest in a low bush of the dogwood. In it were two young ones dead, and one alive covered with large insects. Presently I heard the chirp of a fourth, which I found within a few yards of the place. Concluding that the insects were the cause of all the distress I saw, I destroyed them, and replaced the young birds in the nest, where I left them. Visiting them repeatedly afterwards, I saw them grow apace, until at length they flew off, when I cut the twig, and drew it with the nest, as you now see it in the Plate. "
In pristine condition, measuring a full 40 x 27.75 inches. The paper is virtually flawless. Excellent color and hand-coloring. Chromolithograph with additional hand coloring, 1860.
$5,250 this week only (list price $8,500). Offer expires 4-24-17.
Produced between 1858 and 1860, the Bien edition of Audubon’s Birds of America is the largest and most valuable color plate book ever published in America, and the rarest of all Audubon folios. Also of double-elephant dimensions (27 x 40 inches), this edition represents one of the finest examples of early large-scale color printing. The new technique of chromolithography was perceived as an advancement in print-making technology that promised to achieve effects entirely different from engraving.
John James Audubon (1785–1851), is renowned for his extraordinary undertaking to record the birds of America. The images he created are icons of 19th-century art. Having studied and drawn birds since childhood, in 1819, Audubon followed his passion and fully embraced the life of an artist-naturalist, embarking on a mission to create the Birds of America. He explored the American backwoods and wilderness to discover, record, and illustrate its avian life. It was not until he reached the shores of Great Britain with a portfolio laden with his bird portraits that Audubon found an engraver who could produce his great work in the size of life, as he desired. Together with London engraver, Robert Havell, J. J. Audubon and his family created the lavish double-elephant-size Havell edition of aquatint engravings of The Birds of America, published 1827–38.
Seven years after their father’s death, Audubon’s sons, John Woodhouse Audubon and Victor Gifford Audubon, began an American edition of The Birds of America with Julius Bien, a New York-based printer who was pioneering the field of chromolithography. Bien transferred the images from Havell’s copper plates onto lithographic stones. As many as six printing stages with additional hand-drawn lithography and coloring were used to reproduce subtleties found in the Havell engravings.
As the Havell edition was, the Bien edition was also sold by subscription beginning in 1858. Production was brought to a halt by the advent of the Civil War and only 150 plates on 105 sheets were completed. The Audubon family was unable to complete and sell the edition or recoup their losses, which led to a devastating bankruptcy. The consensus is that fewer than seventy folios were completed.
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