Audubon: National Treasures - The Five Watercolors for the Second Fascicle of 'The Birds of America' at New-York Historical Society
212-873-3400 www.nyhistory.org Ages: All Ages
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Looking at these five watercolors you are enjoying an experience similar to that of John James Audubon's (1785–1851) original subscribers to The Birds of America (1827-1838). In distributing its 435 plates, he followed a nineteenth-century practice of issuing them serially by subscription in 87 fascicles (groups) of five prints. In a brilliant marketing ploy, John James Audubon packaged each group of engravings to consist of three small, one medium, and one large, spectacular species. The latter fully exploited the double-elephant-size paper, the largest then available, used for the prints and the watercolors of the biggest birds. In the second grouping, the pièce de résistance was the Wild Turkey (hen and chicks). Two of the other four preparatory watercolors date from an intense early period of studying birds in the company of his best pupil from Cincinnati, Joseph Mason (1808–1842), who painted many of the botanical specimens during 1821-22. All five prints after these watercolor models were initially engraved by William Home Lizars (1788–1859) in Edinburgh and retouched later by Robert Havell Jr. (1793–1878) in London. The 435 hand-colored aquatints and etchings of The Birds of America contain at least 1,026 life-size birds representing around 500 species (a number that changes as DNA evidence alters modern taxonomy). This deluxe edition, considered the most spectacular color folio print series ever produced, remains one of the world's preeminent natural history documents.
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