John J. Audubon, Pl. 286 White-fronted Goose, Birds of America, Havell Edition, 1827–38, Hand-colored Engraving

$17,500 this week only (list price $25,000). Offer expires 4-9-2018

Laura Oppenheimer


John J. Audubon, Pl. 286 White-fronted GooseThe Birds of America, Havell edition, 1827–38, Hand-colored engraving

Acquire a superb Havell edition aquatint engraving by John J. Audubon, Plate 286, White-fronted GooseAnser albifrons, Bechst, available this week only at a substantial discount. Audubon depicted this pair of white-fronted geese life size on a muddy bank with grasses and shells. The male stands on the left, and the female is dramatically figured on the right to display the color of the plumage on the underside of her wing. The current name is Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons 

 In the Ornithological Biography, Audubon offers discerning observations of the migration patterns of the White-fronted Goose, and an approving culinary review as well:

Neither WILSON nor NUTTALL seem to have been aware of the regularity with which this species migrates through the United States. When I shewed a drawing of it to the first of these authors, he pronounced it to be a young Snow Goose, although I described to him its peculiar notes. During the whole of my residence in Kentucky, a winter never passed without my seeing a good number of them; and at that season they are frequently offered for sale in the markets of New Orleans. An English gentleman, who was on his way to the settlement of Birkbeck in the prairies west of the Ohio, and who spent a few weeks with me at Henderson, was desirous of having a tasting of some of our game. His desire was fully gratified, and the first that was placed before him was a White-fronted Goose. I had killed seven of these birds the evening before, in a pond across the Ohio, which was regularly supplied with flocks from the beginning of October to the end of March. He pronounced it "delicious," and I have no reason to dissent from his opinion. From the numbers seen high on the Arkansas river, I presume that many winter beyond the southern limits of the United States. They are exceedingly rare, however, along our Atlantic coast. In Kentucky they generally arrive before the Canada Goose, betaking themselves to the grassy ponds; and of the different species which visit that country they are by far the least shy. The flock seldom exceed from thirty to fifty individuals. Their general appearance is that exhibited in the plate, and which I consider as their winter plumage, feeling pretty confident that in summer the lower part of the body becomes pure black. 

A richly hand-colored engraving in pristine condition. Engraved, printed, and colored by R. Havell & Son in London, 1836; J. Whatman paper, double-elephant size, 25.75 x 38.25 inches.

Renowned for his legendary undertaking to depict all the birds of America, the images John James Audubon (1785–1851) created for his great work, the Birds of America, are icons of nineteenth-century art. 

References: An Index and Guide to Audubon's Birds of America, Susanne M. Low, 1988, page 131.

 $17,500 this week only (list price $25,000). Frame additional. Offer expires 4-9-18.

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Audubon explored the American backwoods and wilderness to discover, record, and illustrate its avian life. America’s most revered artist-naturalist was born in Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti), the bastard son of Jean Audubon, a French sea captain. The embarrassing fact of his illegitimate birth was hidden by his family until well after Audubon’s death. To escape a slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue, in 1791 the handsome young boy was brought to his father’s home in Nantes, France, where he was raised and cherished by his father’s childless wife, Anne Moynet. In 1803, to avoid conscription in Napoleon’s army, his father sent him to manage Mill Grove, a farm he owned near Philadelphia.

From childhood, Audubon was fascinated by nature, drawing  and studying birds during extended “rambles” in the woods. However, it was not until he was the father of two sons of his own that Audubon fully embraced the life of an artist-naturalist with the support of his devoted wife, Lucy Audubon. In 1820, Audubon left his family in Cincinnati, embarking with a young apprentice, Joseph R. Mason. They crossed the Ohio River to the Mississippi on a flatboat to New Orleans. Mason worked with Audubon from 1820 until 1822, contributing mostly botanical elements to about 55 of Audubon’s paintings. Later in the project, the artists George Lehman, Maria Martin, and his sons Victor Gifford Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon assisted John James Audubon with botanical backgrounds.

In 1826, he brought his portfolio of primarily watercolor paintings to Great Britain where his work was applauded by the scientific community and admired by the elite classes. There he met the engraver Robert Havell, who was able to undertake engraving Audubon’s great work in the size of life. Together with Havell, J. J. Audubon created the lavish double-elephant-size folio of The Birds of America—completed with the help of family, friends, and other capable assistants.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish engraver W. H. Lizars began to produce the very first plates in 1826. However, after the completion of only ten plates, Lizars’ colorists went on strike. Audubon continued his pursuit in London with Robert Havell, who published The Birds of America from 1827 to 1838Twelve years in the making, the completed work comprised 435 hand-colored engravings. Havell also retouched Lizars’ original efforts, adding aquatint to the engraving and etching. On those plates, Havell’s name appears alongside that of the Scottish engraver’s.

Audubon sold 186 subscriptions to the complete folio of The Birds of America, each of which commanded the princely sum of $1,000—­the cost of a substantial home at that time. Published on sheets measuring 261/2 by 39 inches, called “double elephant” by the printing trade, the resultant aquatint engravings depict each subject in its actual size and are among the largest ever made. Still, Audubon often altered the larger birds’ natural postures, creatively composing the figure to fit within the dimensions of the sheet.

Of the 186 complete sets produced, more than 100 are intact in library and museum collections worldwide. Since first produced by Havell over 175 years ago, few of the sets have been broken to make individual prints available for sale. Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. specializes in these rare, original engravings, maintaining an extensive inventory, many in exceptionally fine condition.

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

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