John J. Audubon, Pl. 33 American Goldfinch, Birds of America, Havell Edition, 1827–38
John J. Audubon, Pl. 33 American Goldfinch, The Birds of America, Havell edition, 1827–38, hand-colored engraving
Acquire a superb Havell edition aquatint engraving by John J. Audubon, Plate 33, American Goldfinch, Fringilla tristis (Linn.), available this week only at a substantial discount. Audubon figured the vividly colored male bird (1) above the female (2) on stalks of Common Thistle, Cnicus lanceolatus, a favorite food, as he described in the accompanying text below.
The food of the American Goldfinch consists chiefly of seeds of the hemp, the sun-flower, the lettuce, and various species of thistle. Now and then, during winter, it eats the fruit of the elder.
In ascending along the shores of the Mohawk river, in the month of August, I have met more of these pretty birds in the course of a day's walk than anywhere else; and whenever a thistle was to be seen along either bank of the New York canal, it was ornamented with one or more Goldfinches. They tear up the down and withered petals of the ripening flowers with ease, leaning downwards upon them, eat off the seed, and allow the down to float in the air. The remarkable plumage of the male, as well as its song, are at this season very agreeable; and so familiar are these birds, that they suffer you to approach within a few yards, before they leave the plant on which they are seated. For a considerable space along the Genessee river, the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and even Lake Superior, I have always seen many of them in the latter part of summer. They have then a decided preference for the vicinity of water.
A richly hand-colored engraving in pristine condition. Engraved, printed, and colored by R. Havell & Son in London, J. Whatman paper, double-elephant size, 38 x 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.
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 1838. Twelve 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 26.5 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.