John J. Audubon, Pl. 405 Eider Duck, The 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 America, Pl. 405, Eider Duck, Fuligula mollisima. In Audubon's dynamic and colorful composition, a male (left) is being driven off by a mated pair of eider ducks (right). Eggs the female laid are hidden in the grassy habitat on the right side of plate. The current name is Common Eider, Somateria mollisima. This week only, enjoy significant savings on this richly detailed chromolithograph.
In an excerpt from his Ornithological Biography, Audubon observes distinctions between true ducks and Eider ducks:
The fact that the Eider Duck breeds on our eastern coasts, must be interesting to the American ornithologist, whose fauna possesses but few birds of this family that do so. The Fuligulae are distinguished from all other Ducks that feed in fresh or salt water, by the comparative shortness of the neck, the greater expansion of their feet, the more depressed form of their body, and their power of diving to a considerable depth, in order to reach the beds on which their favourite shelly food abounds. Their flight, too, differs from that of the true Ducks, inasmuch as it is performed nearer the surface of the water. Rarely, indeed, do the Fuligulae fly at any considerable height over that element, and with the exception of three species, they are rarely met with inland, unless when driven thither by storms. They differ, more-over, in their propensity to breed in communities, and often at a very small distance from each other. Lastly, they are in general more ready to abandon their females, the moment incubation has commenced. Thus the female is left in a state of double responsibility, which she meets, however, with a courage equal to the occasion, although alone and unprotected.
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.
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