John J. Audubon, Plate 280, White Headed Pigeon, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860
$6,750 this week only (list price $9,500). Offer expires 5-29-17
22 May, 2017 by
John J. Audubon, Plate 280, White Headed Pigeon, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860
Joel Oppenheimer

John J. Audubon, Pl. 280 White Headed PigeonThe Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860, chromolithograph

Acquire one of John J. Audubon's most iconic and beautiful plates, Pl. 280, White Headed Pigeon, Columba leucocephala, from the Bien edition of The Birds of America. This richly colored chromolithograph is available this week only at a special price. A male and female are depicted perched on a flowering branch of Cordia sebastena, Rough-leaved Cordia. Referring to the botanical illustrated as "one of the most beautiful of the West Indian trees," Audubon notes in the accompanying text that the botanical drawing was made "with the assistance of Mr. Lehman," referring to Swiss landscape artist and lithographer, George Lehman (ca. 1803 – 1870). 

In the text that accompanies this plate 

in the Ornithological Biography or account of the habits of birds of the United States of America, Audubon writes of his exploration in the Florida Keys, where he first observed the White Headed Pigeon.

"The key on which I first saw this bird, lies about twenty-five miles south of Indian Key, and is named Bahia-honda Duck Key. The farther south we proceeded the more we saw, until we reached the low, sandy, sterile keys, called the Tortugas, on none of which did I see a Pigeon of any kind. During my visit to the Floridas, our party procured a great number of White-headed Pigeons. They were all either adult or full-plumed birds, having the upper part of the head pure white, with a deep rich brown edging at the lateral parts of the crown. On our return from the Tortugas to Key West, our vessel anchored close to a small key, in a snug harbour protected from the sea winds by several long and narrow islands well known to the navigators of those seas. Captain DAY and myself visited this little key, which was not much more than an acre in extent, the same afternoon. No sooner had we landed, than, to our delight, we saw a great number of White-headed Pigeons rise, fly round the key several times, and all realight upon it. The Captain posted himself at one end of the key, I at the other, while the sailors walked about to raise the birds. In less than two hours we shot thirty-six of them, mostly on the wing. Their attachment to this islet resulted from their having nests with eggs on it. Along with them we found Grakles, Red-winged Starlings, Flycatchers, and a few Zenaida Doves. Having shot most of the Pigeons, examined their nests, collected their eggs, and written memoranda, we proceeded to other keys in search of other species."     

In perfect condition, chromolithograph by J. Bien with additional hand coloring, New York, 1860, double-elephant folio size, 39.2 x 26.75 inches.


 $6,750 this week only (list price $9,500). Offer expires 5-29-17.

Reference: The Library Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia on Stone Biographical Dictionary,

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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 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.

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

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John J. Audubon, Plate 280, White Headed Pigeon, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860
Joel Oppenheimer 22 May, 2017
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