John J. Audubon, Pl. 296 Pinnated Grouse, The Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860 chromolithograph
Acquire a magnificent print by John J. Audubon, Plate 296 Pinnated Grouse, Tetrao cupido (Lin.), a richly colored chromolithograph from the Bien edition of The Birds of America—available this week only at a special price.
In his entry in the Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America, 1835 (vol. ii, pages 490–503), Audubon provides a description of the grouse's habits as depicted in the plate. The landscape represents the beautiful meadows in "the Western country" of Kentucky twenty-five years earlier, when he first witnessed the pinnated grouse.
“As soon as the snows have melted away, and the first blades of grass issue from the earth, announcing the approach of spring, the Grouse, which had congregated during the winter in great flocks, separate into parties of from twenty to fifty or more. Their love season commences, and a spot is pitched upon to which they daily resort until incubation is established. Inspired by love, the male birds, before the first glimpse of day lightens the horizon, fly swiftly and singly from their grassy beds, to meet, to challenge, and to fight the various rivals led by the same impulse to the arena. The male is at this season attired in his full dress, and enacts his part in a manner not surpassed in pomposity by any other bird. Imagine them assembled, to the number of twenty, by day-break, see them all strutting in the presence of each other, mark their consequential gestures, their looks of disdain, and their angry pride, as they pass each other. Their tails are spread out and inclined forwards, to meet the expanded feathers of their neck, which now, like stiffened frills, lie supported by the globular orange-coloured receptacles of air, from which their singular booming sounds proceed. Their wings, like those of the Turkey Cock, are stiffened and declined so as to rub and rustle on the ground, as the bird passes rapidly along. Their bodies are depressed towards the ground, the fire of their eyes evinces the pugnacious workings of the mind, their notes fill the air around, and at the very first answer from some coy female, the heated blood of the feathered warriors swells every vein, and presently the battle rages. Like Game Cocks they strike, and rise in the air to meet their assailants with greater advantage. Now many close in the encounter; feathers are seen whirling in the agitated air, or falling around them tinged with blood. The weaker begin to give way, and one after another seek refuge in the neighbouring bushes. The remaining few, greatly exhausted, maintain their ground, and withdraw slowly and proudly, as if each claimed the honours of victory. The vanquished and the victors then search for the females, who, believing each to have returned from the field in triumph, receive them with joy.
This is one of the few plates in which Audubon executed all three aspects of the composition, ornithological, landscape, and botanical elements, including Audubon's stunning rendering of the Lilium superbum, or tiger lily. In the O.B. he mentions that he was forced to reduce the the height of the tiger lily stems to fit them into his drawing. In perfect condition, chromolithograph with additional hand coloring, 1860, double-elephant folio size, 38.75 x 26 inches.
$9,000 this week only (list price $15,000). Offer expires 2-19-17.
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.
further information or to purchase, please call the gallery at 312-642-5300.