John James Audubon, Pl. 275 Yellow-billed Cuckoo, hand-colored lithograph, first edition octavo, 1839–1844
Acquire a superb first edition Audubon octavo print from the Birds of America, Plate 275, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Coccytus americanus, Linn. after John James Audubon, at a special discount from our already low prices. Audubon's wonderfully animated composition fully realizes the grace and drama of nature. He depicted a male and female yellow-billed cuckoo in a pawpaw tree, Porcelia triloba. Audubon probably painted the original watercolor for this print in 1821 or 1822. It has been suggested that the bird on the right with the tiger swallowtail may have been an inspired decorative addition, since the yellow-billed cuckoo feeds almost exclusively on caterpillars. Also, it is likely that Joseph Mason, Audubon's young assistant at the time, painted the leaves and fruit of the pawpaw tree.*
Among the many interesting subjects Audubon addresses in his entry for the yellow-billed cuckoo are the birds' range and the pawpaw tree, which he chose as the botanical setting for this plate.
I found the Yellow-billed Cuckoo plentiful and breeding in the Texas; and it is met with, on the other hand, in Nova Scotia, and even in Labrador, where I saw a few. It has been observed on the Columbia river by Mr. TOWNSEND. No mention is made of it in the Fauna Boreali-Americana. Many spend the winter in the most southern portions of the Floridas....
The branch, among the foliage of which you see the male and female winging their way, is one of the papaw, a tree of small size, seldom more than from twenty to thirty feet in height, with a diameter of from three to seven inches. It is found growing in all rich grounds, to which it is peculiar, from the southern line of our States to central Pennsylvania, seldom farther eastward, here and there only along the alluvial shores of the Ohio and Mississippi. In all other places of like nature you may meet with groves of papaw trees, covering an acre or more of ground. The fruit, which is represented in the plate, consists of a pulpy and insipid substance, within which are found several large, hard, and glossy seeds. The rind is extremely thin. The wood is light, soft, brittle, and almost useless. The bark, which is smooth, may be torn off from the foot of the tree to the very top, and is frequently used for malting ropes, after it has been steeped in water sufficiently to detach the outer part, when the fibres are obtained, which, when twisted, are found to be nearly as tough and durable as hemp. The numerous islands of the Ohio and all the other western rivers are generally well stocked with this tree.
Hand-colored royal octavo lithograph, lithographed, printed, and colored by J. T. Bowen in Philadelphia. Includes an archival mat. Excellent color, perfect condition,10 x 6.5 inches.
$145 this week only (list price $200). Offer expires 9-11-17.
America’s most revered artist-naturalist, 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. Though fascinated by nature since childhood, studying and drawing from it, it was not until 1819, when Audubon was 34, that he fully embraced the life of an artist-naturalist. Having found his calling, he set out on a mission to create the Birds of America, exploring the American backwoods and wilderness to discover, record, and illustrate its avian life. Unable to find an engraver in the United States who could produce his great work in the size of life, that issue was resolved when he reached the shores of Great Britain. Together with London engraver, Robert Havell, J. J. Audubon and his family created the lavish double-elephant-size folio of The Birds of America, published from 1827–38.
To make The Birds of America more affordable and widely available, in 1839 Audubon began the first octavo edition, a smaller version of the folio which was printed and hand colored by J. T. Bowen in Philadelphia. Employing a new invention, the camera lucida, the images were reduced in size, rendered in intermediate drawings by Audubon and his son John Woodhouse, and then drawn onto lithographic stones. These miniatures exhibit a remarkable amount of attention to quality and detail, as well as a meticulous fidelity to the larger works. Some compositional changes were made in order to accommodate the smaller format.
Like the Havell edition, Audubon’s first octavo edition was sold by subscription and distributed in parts five at a time. However, the octavo editions were issued in proper phylogenic, or species order. These prints also bear the plate number in the upper right-hand corner and the subscription number in the upper left. The first edition of approximately 1,200 sets was completed in five years from 1839 to 1844.
Though the first edition remains the most desirable, several octavo editions of both the Birds and Quadrupeds were produced. In 1856, a second edition of the Birds was published by Audubon’s son, Victor Gifford. The octavo edition of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America was first published between 1849 and 1854.
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