Audubon Bien Edition Pl. 414, Smew or White Nun
Oppenheimer Editions Print
26 7/16" x 39 3/8"
Limited edition of 150
Blind embossed with the Oppenheimer Editions logo
The Birds of America, Bien Edition—Published by Oppenheimer Editions
Produced between 1858 and 1860, the Bien edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America is the largest and most valuable color plate book ever published in America, and the rarest of all John James Audubon folios. Also on sheets measuring 26 1/2 by 39 inches, called double-elephant, 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 printmaking technology that promised to achieve effects entirely different from engraving.
Seven years after their father’s death, John James 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 Robert 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 also was 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.
John James Audubon explored the American backwoods and wilderness to discover, record, and illustrate its avian life. 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 he was the father of two sons that John James Audubon fully embraced the life of an artist-naturalist with the support of his devoted wife, Lucy Audubon. In 1820, John James Audubon left his family in Cincinnati, embarking with a young apprentice, Joseph R. Mason. Mason worked with John James Audubon from 1820 until 1822, contributing mostly botanical elements to about 55 of John James Audubon’s paintings. Later, the artists George Lehman, Maria Martin, and his sons Victor Gifford Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon assisted John James Audubon with botanical and landscape backgrounds. Published from 1827—38, the lavish double-elephant-size folio of The Birds of America, spectacularly launched John James Audubon’s career as an artist-naturalist and publisher of natural history folios depicting North American birds and animals.
Established in 1999, Oppenheimer Editions has partnered with prestigious museums to make prints from their holdings. Works from the New-York Historical Society’s unrivaled collections of John James Audubon’s watercolors and the Hudson River School paintings are examples of art that otherwise would be unobtainable. Among the institutional collections we have partnered with are the American Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. These are not mere reproductions. They are limited-edition fine art prints made with the finest quality archival pigments on rag watercolor paper and executed to exacting standards.