Celebrated for his renowned bird paintings, John James Audubon is recognized as the first artist to illustrate the bird in its true form. He had the uncanny ability to replicate the form and physical features of any bird he ventured to paint.
Audubon was born in the French colony of Santo Domingo (now Haiti) in 1785. He was the son of French sailor, Captain Jean Audubon, and chambermaid, Jeanne Rabine. Since the age of three, Audubon was raised by his father and stepmother in the west of France. His love of nature and wildlife became apparent at a very early age.
In 1803, at the age of 18, Audubon was sent to America to oversee his father’s farm near Philadelphia. It was there that he was able to live a carefree life, and indulge in his passions for nature, drawing, and music. Audubon was often found wandering the fields in the Philadelphia countryside in the hopes of catching a glimpse of one of the many animals he had grown to love. His awe for the wildlife soon extended into a hobby of hunting, and collecting of specimens.
In America, he also met Lucy Bakewell and they soon became engaged.
At age 20, Audubon returned to his family in France for one year. It was at this time that he began his pastel bird-drawings.
Following the year that he returned to the United States, Audubon resolved to complete a drawing of each American bird in its exact color and size.
Passion soon turned into profession as, at age 35, he was determined to have his bird illustrations published. Being a firm believer in his craft, Audubon took his portfolio to Philadelphia in 1824 in search of an engraver and a publisher for his work.
While in Philadelphia, he was also given the opportunity to present his work to the prestigious Acadamy of Natural Sciences; the country’s most important natural history institution. The members of the Academy, however, were not impressed by Audubon, and found him to be arrogant and cocky.
Convinced he could find no support in America, Audubon in 1826 sailed for Great Britain. Overseas his works of art were enthusiastically received.
Audubon finally published The Birds of America in four volumes between 1827 and 1838. The volumes contained a total of 1,065 individual birds drawn in their realistic form.
He returned to American after five years abroad.
Finally in 1831, Audubon received the recognition he had hoped for. He was elected as an honorary member of the Academy of Natural Sciences.
His successes had rendered him enough income to settle with his wife and sons on an estate on the Hudson in New York.
John James Audubon died at the age of 66 on January 27, 1851.
To this day, Audubon is recognized as being the only artist who was able to accurately represent the bird in its actual state. He was able to capture the perfect textures, contours, and colors of any bird he drew. He utilized a variety of artistic mediums to achieve these perfected results – watercolor, gouache, glaze, pastel, pencil.
One of Audubon’s most memorable works is his 1837 illustration of a white gyrfalcon he saw in Great Britain. His meticulous detail of the bird’s physical features is still admired by modern-day art enthusiasts.