Audubon Havell Ed. Pl 301, Canvas-backed Duck
Original Antique Print
J. Whatman Watermark
About the Havell Edition
John James Audubon's work synthesizes his intimate knowledge of his subjects with his immense artistic ability. Therein lies his genius and the reason he is recognized today as a great American artist. Hailed in his lifetime for his artistic achievement, Audubon's stature as an artist has continued to increase, and his work remains unchallenged as the superlative example of its genre.
In Edinburgh, the Scottish engraver W. H. Lizars began to produce the very first plates for The Birds of America in 1826. However, after the completion of only ten plates, Lizars' colorists went on strike, and Audubon was forced to continue his pursuit with another engraver.
Audubon's search led him to Robert Havell, a renowned London engraver. The completed work, The Birds of America, comprised of 435 hand-colored engravings, was 12 years in the making, and was published from 1827 to 1838. Havell also retouched Lizars' original efforts, adding aquatint to the engraving. On those plates, Havell's name appears alongside that of the Scottish engraver's.
Audubon sold 175 subscriptions to 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 inches by 39 inches, called "double elephant" folio by the printing trade, the resultant 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.
A maximum of 200 complete sets of The Birds of America were produced. Of those, more than 100 are intact in library and museum collections worldwide. In the more than 180 years since they were first printed by Havell, 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.