John J. Audubon, Pl. 216 Wood Ibis, The Birds of America, Havell edition, 1827–38, Hand-colored engraving
Acquire a superb print by John J. Audubon, Plate 216, Wood Ibis, tantulus loculator, a spectacular Audubon Havell edition aquatint engraving, 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 19th-century art.
Based upon his own numerous observations in the wild, Audubon’s entry for this bird in the Ornithological Biography contradict’s the renowned naturalist William Bartram’s assertion that the Wood Ibis “does not associate in flocks”, a statement which was published by the artist-naturalist Alexander Wilson in his work, American Ornithology, 1808–14.
The accompanying text and Audubon’s dramatic image of the Wood Ibis takes you to the the watery edge of a verdant habitat amidst “numerous swamps, lagoons, bayous, and submersed savannahs that occur in the lower parts of our Southern States, all abounding with fishes and reptiles…”, and explains that the Wood Ibis’ habits are “entirely at variance” with Bartram’s premise.
“The Wood Ibis is rarely met with single, even after the breeding season, and it is more easy for a person to see a hundred together at any period of the year, than to meet with one by itself…. This species feeds entirely on fish and aquatic reptiles, of which it destroys an enormous quantity…. Mark the place, reader, and follow their course through cane-brake, cypress-swamp, and tangled wood. Seldom do they return to the same feeding place on the same day. You have reached the spot, and are standing on the margin of a dark-watered bayou, the sinuosities of which lead your eye into a labyrinth ending in complete darkness. The tall canes bow to each other from the shores; the majestic trees above them, all bung with funereal lichen, gently wave in the suffocating atmosphere…. Through the dim light your eye catches a glimpse of the white-plumaged birds, moving rapidly like spectres to and fro. The loud cracking of their mandibles apprises you of the havoc they commit among the terrified inhabitants of the waters.”
J. Whatman paper, exquisite hand-coloring, excellent condition, double-elephant size, 37.875 x 25.25 inches.
$65,000 this week only (list price $92,500). Offer expires 3-20-17.
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.