John J. Audubon, Pl 159 Seaside Finch and Pl. 172 Bay-winged Bunting, The Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860, chromolithograph
Acquire a beautiful double plate from the Bien edition of John J. Audubon's Birds of America, Pl. 159 Seaside Finch and Pl. 172 Bay-winged Bunting, offered this week only at a special price. Forty-five of 105 plates in the Bien edition are double plates representing 90 smaller species that are primarily song and shore birds. In this plate, two different species of songbirds are depicted, each with a colorful botanical.
On the left is Plate 159, in which Audubon depicted a male and a female Seaside Finch, Fingilla maritima, Wils., perched a lovely botanical, Carolina Rose, Rosa carolina. In the Ornithologiccal Biography, Audubon notes: "The rose on which I have drawn these birds is found so near the sea, on rather higher lands than the marshes, that I thought it as fit as any other plant for the purpose, more especially as the Finches, when very high tides overflow the marshes, take refuge in these higher grounds. It is sweetly scented, and blooms from May to August. The current name for this bird is Seaside Sparrow, Ammidramus maritimus.
On the right is Plate 172, a male Grass Finch or Bay-winged Bunting, Fringilla graminea, Gmel., is depicted on a rock in front of the Prickly Pear or Indian Fig plant, Cadus opuntia. Audubon wrote this choice to depict the Seaside Finch with the prickly pear plant,: "Having drawn the figure which you will see...near the sea-shores of New Jersey, where the bird which it represents was shot while walking among little groups of the plant there vulgarly called the prickly pear, I have represented it also. It shoots up its fleshy stems from among the driest sand, and there flourishes in the greatest perfection and abundance. The flower is destitute of scent, but the fruit is agreeably acid, and is often eaten by children." The current name for this species is Vesper Sparrow, Pooecetes gramineus.
An Index and Guide to Audubon's Birds of America, Susanne M. Low, 1988, pages 66–67.
Produced between 1858 and 1860, the Bien edition of Audubon’s Birds of America is the largest and most valuable color plate book ever published in America, and the rarest of all Audubon folios. Also of double-elephant dimensions (27 x 40 inches), 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 print-making technology that promised to achieve effects entirely different from engraving.
John James Audubon (1785–1851), is renowned for his extraordinary undertaking to record the birds of America. The images he created are icons of nineteenth-century art. Having studied and drawn birds since childhood, in 1819, Audubon followed his passion and fully embraced the life of an artist-naturalist, embarking on a mission to create the Birds of America. He explored the American backwoods and wilderness to discover, record, and illustrate its avian life. It was not until he reached the shores of Great Britain with a portfolio laden with his bird portraits that Audubon found an engraver who could produce his great work in the size of life, as he desired. Together with London engraver, Robert Havell, J. J. Audubon and his family created the lavish double-elephant-size Havell edition of aquatint engravings of The Birds of America, published 1827–38.
Seven years after their father’s death, 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 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 was also 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.
For further information or to purchase, please call the gallery at 312-642-5300.