John J. Audubon, Pl. 322 Red-headed Duck, Birds of America, Havell Edition, 1827–1838, Hand-colored Engraving

$11,750 this week only (list price $15,000). Offer expires 10-9-2017

Laura Oppenheimer


John J. Audubon, Pl. 322 Red-headed DuckThe Birds of America, Havell edition, 1827–1838, Hand-colored engraving

Acquire a superb Havell edition aquatint engraving by John J. Audubon, Plate 322, Red-headed DuckFuligula ferina, available this week only at a substantial discount. The current name is Redhead, Aythya americana (Steph.).

Audubon depicted a female (left) and a male (right) in the size of life. Referring to the specimens in the plate, he notes their provenance, "The fine pair from which I made the two figures in the plate were given me by my friend DANIEL WEBSTER, Esq. of Boston, Massachusetts, whose talents and accomplishments are too well known to require any eulogium from me."  

Audubon observed these ducks in "great numbers" in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky and believed that they migrated in the spring and autumn. In the Ornithological Biography, he further describes the range, habitat, and diet of the Red-headed Duck, and offers anecdotal information on regional differences in the cost of purchasing them at markets.  

I found it abundant in the marshes near St. Augustine, in East Florida, on the 8th of November, 1831, when the young males of that year had the breast and lower neck mottled with brown and blackish feathers; and yet whilst at General HERNANDEZ'S, in that district, on the 20th of December, they were in almost perfect plumage. At this latter period they were shy, and kept in company with Mallards, American Widgeons, Scaup Ducks, and Spoonbills, generally in shallow fresh-water ponds, at some distance from the sea-shore. In South Carolina, these [ducks are now much more abundant than they were twenty years ago, especially on the Santee river, where my friend Dr. SAMUEL WILSON has shot many of them, as well as of the Canvass-back species. 

The Red-headed Duck may be said to be equally fond of salt and fresh water, and is found in abundance, during its stay with us, on the Chesapeake Bay, especially in the month of March, when it associates with the Canvass-back and other Ducks, and is offered for sale in the Baltimore markets in great numbers. There I have seen them sold at 75 cents the pair, which was lower by 25 cents than their price at New Orleans in April 1837. 

Although they dive much and to a great depth, while in our bays and estuaries, yet when in the shallow ponds of the interior, they are seen dabbling the mud along the shores, much in the manner of the Mallard; and on occasionally shooting them there, I have found their stomach crammed with young tadpoles and small water-lizards, as well as blades of the grasses growing around the banks. Nay, on several occasions, I have found pretty large acorns and beech-nuts in their throats, as well as snails, entire or broken, and fragments of the shells of various small unios, together with much gravel.

In confinement, they do not exhibit that degree of awkwardness attributed to them when on land. It is true that the habitual shortening of the neck detracts from their beauty, so that in this state they cannot be said to present a graceful appearance; yet their aspect has always been pleasing to my sight.

A richly hand-colored engraving in pristine condition. Engraved, printed, and colored by R. Havell & Son in London, 1836; J. Whatman paper, double-elephant size, 25.25 x 37.5 inches.

Renowned for his legendary undertaking to depict all the birds of America, the images John James Audubon (1785–1851) created for his great work, the Birds of America, are icons of nineteenth-century art. 

References: An Index and Guide to Audubon's Birds of America, Susanne M. Low, 1988, page 143; Ornithological Biography or an account of the habits of the Birds of the United States of America, Accompanied by Objects Represented in the Work Entitled, Birds of America, John James Audubon, 1838, Vol. IV, pages 198–200.

 $11,750 this week only (list price $15,000). Offer expires 10-9-17.

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Audubon explored the American backwoods and wilderness to discover, record, and illustrate its avian life. America’s most revered artist-naturalist was born in Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti), the bastard son of Jean Audubon, a French sea captain. The embarrassing fact of his illegitimate birth was hidden by his family until well after Audubon’s death. To escape a slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue, in 1791 the handsome young boy was brought to his father’s home in Nantes, France, where he was raised and cherished by his father’s childless wife, Anne Moynet. In 1803, to avoid conscription in Napoleon’s army, his father sent him to manage Mill Grove, a farm he owned near Philadelphia.

From childhood, Audubon was fascinated by nature, drawing  and studying birds during extended “rambles” in the woods. However, it was not until he was the father of two sons of his own that Audubon fully embraced the life of an artist-naturalist with the support of his devoted wife, Lucy Audubon. In 1820, Audubon left his family in Cincinnati, embarking with a young apprentice, Joseph R. Mason. They crossed the Ohio River to the Mississippi on a flatboat to New Orleans. Mason worked with Audubon from 1820 until 1822, contributing mostly botanical elements to about 55 of Audubon’s paintings. Later in the project, the artists George Lehman, Maria Martin, and his sons Victor Gifford Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon assisted John James Audubon with botanical backgrounds.

In 1826, he brought his portfolio of primarily watercolor paintings to Great Britain where his work was applauded by the scientific community and admired by the elite classes. There he met the engraver Robert Havell, who was able to undertake engraving Audubon’s great work in the size of life. Together with Havell, J. J. Audubon created the lavish double-elephant-size folio of The Birds of America—completed with the help of family, friends, and other capable assistants.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish engraver W. H. Lizars began to produce the very first plates in 1826. However, after the completion of only ten plates, Lizars’ colorists went on strike. Audubon continued his pursuit in London with Robert Havell, who published The Birds of America from 1827 to 1838Twelve years in the making, the completed work comprised 435 hand-colored engravings. Havell also retouched Lizars’ original efforts, adding aquatint to the engraving and etching. On those plates, Havell’s name appears alongside that of the Scottish engraver’s.

Audubon sold 186 subscriptions to the complete folio of The Birds of America, each of which commanded the princely sum of $1,000—­the cost of a substantial home at that time. Published on sheets measuring 261/2 by 39 inches, called “double elephant” by the printing trade, the resultant aquatint engravings depict each subject in its actual size and are among the largest ever made. Still, Audubon often altered the larger birds’ natural postures, creatively composing the figure to fit within the dimensions of the sheet.

Of the 186 complete sets produced, more than 100 are intact in library and museum collections worldwide. Since first produced by Havell over 175 years ago, few of the sets have been broken to make individual prints available for sale. Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. specializes in these rare, original engravings, maintaining an extensive inventory, many in exceptionally fine condition.

For further information or to purchase, please call the gallery at 312-642-5300.

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