John James Audubon: Birds of America
Sp Coll Hunterian Cd.1.1-4
This truly monumental work was published in eighty-seven parts between 1827 and 1838. Consisting of 435 plates in all, its huge format was dictated by Audubon's determination to depict life size all the known species of birds in North America. Born in the West Indies, Audubon was educated in France and early developed a taste for natural history and drawing; he moved to America in 1803. Although lacking formal artistic training, he studied birds in real life and built up his portfolio of brilliant drawings over a twenty year period.
Audubon sought a publisher for his massive work in Europe. An incredibly costly enterprise, it was to be produced on demand by subscription. William Lizars of Edinburgh had the first plates engraved, but - following production problems - Audubon had to find another (less costly) publisher in London for the bulk of the work. The plates are all engraved in aquatint and coloured by hand. Although the volumes are double elephant in size, many of the birds are posed in attitudes anatomically impossible in order to fit on to the pages. With assistance from the Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray, Audubon later produced a five volume work entitled Ornithological biography as a text to accompany the atlas of drawings.