John J. Audubon, Plate 221, Purple Grackle, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860, chromolithograph
$6,750 this week only (list price $8,500). Offer expires 3-26-2018
19 March, 2018 by
John J. Audubon, Plate 221, Purple Grackle, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860, chromolithograph
Joel Oppenheimer

John J. Audubon, Pl. 221 Purple GrackleThe Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860, chromolithograph with hand coloring

Acquire a superb plate from the Bien edition of John J. Audubon's Birds of AmericaPl. 221, Purple Grackle, or Common Crow Blackbird, Quiscalus versicolor, ViellAudubon's lively, balanced, and strongly vertical composition portrays a female (top) and a male (below) on a stalk of the maize or Indian corn plant, a favorite food source. The current name is Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula. This week only, enjoy significant savings on this richly detailed chromolithograph.

In an excerpt from his Ornithological Biography, Audubon keenly observes the purple grackle with an appreciative painter's eye, while also noting the natural history, such as its habits and distribution, providing a complementary description in words to his vision of the Purple Grackle as illustrated in the plate: 

These birds are constant residents in Louisiana. I say they are so, because numbers of them, which in some countries would be called immense, are found there at all seasons of the year. No sooner has the cotton or corn planter begun to turn his land into brown furrows, than the Crow-Blackbirds are seen sailing down from the skirts of the woods, alighting in the fields, and following his track along the ridges of newly-turned earth, with an elegant and elevated step, which shews them to be as fearless and free as the air through which they wing their way. The genial rays of the sun shine on their silky plumage, and offer to the ploughman's eye such rich and varying tints, that no painter, however gifted, could ever imitate them. The coppery bronze, which in one light shews its rich gloss, is, by the least motion of the bird, changed in a moment to brilliant and deep azure, and again, in the next light, becomes refulgent sapphire or emerald-green.

Excellent condition and color, chromolithograph, 1860, double-elephant folio size, approximately 39.375 x 26.5 inches.

$6,750 this week only (list price $8,500). Offer expires 3-26-18.

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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 nineteenth-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 1827–1838.

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.

For further information or to purchase, please call the gallery at 312-642-5300.

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John J. Audubon, Plate 221, Purple Grackle, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860, chromolithograph
Joel Oppenheimer 19 March, 2018
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