John J. Audubon, Pl. 344 Yellow Shank; Plate 346 Greenshank, The Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860, chromolithograph
Acquire a superb double-plate by John J. Audubon from The Birds of America, Pl. 344 Yellow Shank; Pl. 346 Greenshank. This richly colored chromolithograph from the Bien edition is available this week only at a special price.
Audubon spent eight months exploring the Southeast in search avian subjects for The Birds of America. In mid-October 1831, he arrived Charleston accompanied by the English taxidermist, Henry Ward (1812–78), and the Swiss landscape artist George Lehman (c.1800-70). There he met and befriended the Reverend John Bachman, who shared Audubon’s passion for nature. On April 13th, Audubon, Ward and Lehman arrived in St. Augustine. On May 14, 1832, they traveled to the Florida Keys. In mid-June 1832, they returned to Charleston. The paintings for both of these plates were made during this period.
The Yellow Shank is depicted in a South Carolina landscape. According to notes by the art historian Edward H. Dwight in his entry for the painting of the Yellow Shank in The Original Water-color Paintings by John James Audubon for The Birds of America (1966),
“George Lehman quite possibly painted the entire composition—bird and habitat—near Charleston, while he was working in the South with Audubon in 1832. The South Carolina landscape is one of the finest that he painted for The Birds of America."
Audubon states in his Ornithological Biography entry for this plate that during autumn and spring this species is abundant from Texas to Maine, as well as in the interior. He further references his observations of the yellow shank’s presence in the South, and provides anecdotal information about painting the bird and time he spent visiting landscape depicted in this plate.
“In the Carolinas and the Floridas they are pretty numerous, in the former betaking themselves to the rice-fields, and in the latter to the wet savannahs. They are equally fond of frequenting the shores of our estuaries that are bordered by salt marshes, on the muddy edges of which they find their food....”
“I have represented one of these birds in the foreground of a little piece of water a few miles distant from Charleston in South Carolina, on the borders of which, in the company of my kind friend JOHN BACHMAN and others, I have spent many a pleasant hour, while resting after fatiguing rambles in the surrounding woods.”
In Plate 346 Greenshank, Totanus glottis (Temm.), a male is figured in the foreground of a view of St. Augustine and a Spanish Fort in East Florida. In the Ornithological Biography entry, Audubon tells the story of the sighting and identification of the Greenshank, remarking that Ward was familiar with this large shorebird, native to Europe and Asia.
“While on Sand Key, which is about six miles distant from Cape Sable of the Floridas, in lat. 24 degrees 57 minutes north, and 81 degrees 45 minutes long. west of Greenwich, I shot three birds of this species on the 28th of May, 1832. I had at first supposed them to be Tell-tale Godwits, as they walked on the bars and into the shallows much in the same manner, and, on obtaining them, imagined they were new; but on shewing them to my assistant Mr. WARD, who was acquainted with the Greenshank of Europe, he pronounced them to be of that species, and I have since ascertained the fact by a comparison of specimens. They were all male birds, and I observed no material difference in their plumage. We did not find any afterwards; but it is probable that we had seen some previously, although we did not endeavour to procure them, having supposed them to be Tell-tales….”
Audubon also relies upon John MacGillivray, his co-author in writing the Ornithological Biography, stating, “As I am not acquainted with the habits of this species, I have applied to my friend Mr. MACGILLIVRAY, who has kindly furnished me with the following notice of them as observed in the Hebrides.”
In Edward H. Dwight’s entry for Audubon’s painting of the Greenshank in The Original Water-color Paintings by John James Audubon for The Birds of America (1966), he states,
“Audubon’s sighting of the greenshank is the only record of its appearance in North America. Since it is known by ornithologists to be an Old World, rather than a native, species it is probable that Audubon actually saw a greater yellowlegs [Yellow Shank],...not a greenshank. Since the watermark date is 1834, this painting was probably done the following year. Audubon was in England at the time and no doubt used a preserved specimen of a male greenshank in winter plumage as the model for this figure. Lehman apparently made a separate drawing of a Spanish fort on the water’s edge at St. Augustine which Havell incorporated into his engraving.”
The view of St Augustine in the background of Plate 346 Greeenshank is one of only four depicted in The Birds of America. In perfect condition, chromolithograph with additional hand coloring, 1860, double-elephant folio size, 38.75 x 26 inches.
$4,850 this week only (list price $7,200). Offer expires 2-5-17.
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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