John J. Audubon, Pl. 86 Black Warrior, Birds of America, Havell Edition, 1827–1838, Hand-colored Engraving

$8,500 this week only (list price $12,000). Offer expires 8-7-2017

Laura Oppenheimer


John J. Audubon, Pl. 86 Black WarriorThe Birds of America, Havell edition, 1827–1838, Hand-colored engraving

Acquire a superb Havell edition aquatint engraving by John J. Audubon, Plate 86, Black WarriorFalco harlani, available this week only at a substantial discount. Magnificently depicted by Audubon in the size of life, a pair of hawks is shown perched on a bare branches, the male (above) and female (below). The current name is Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis (Gmelin). In An Index and Guide to Audubon's Birds of America, author Susanne M. Low notes that the Black Warrior appellation did not stick and the hawks in this plate were commonly known as Harlan's Hawks. They are now included as Red-tailed Hawks. 

Audubon thought he discovered this species of hawk, which he named for the naturalist Dr. Richard Harlan [1796–1839]. The birds he describes in this entry are the very ones he depicted for this plate. In the Ornithological Biography, he writes,

Long before I discovered this fine Hawk, I was anxious to have an opportunity of honoring some new species of the feathered tribe with the name of my excellent friend Dr. RICHARD HARLAN of Philadelphia. This I might have done sooner, had I not waited until a species should occur, which in its size and importance should bear some proportion to my gratitude toward that learned and accomplished friend. 

The Hawks now before you were discovered near St. Francisville, in Louisiana, during my late sojourn in that State, and had bred in the neighborhood of the place where I procured them, for two seasons, although they had always eluded my search, until, at last, as I was crossing a large cotton field, one afternoon, I saw the female represented in the Plate standing perched on the top of a high belted tree in an erect and commanding attitude. It looked so like the Black Hawk (Falco niger) of WILSON, that I apprehended what I had heard respecting it might prove incorrect. I approached it, however, when, as if it suspected my evil intentions, it flew off, but after at first sailing as if with the view of escaping from me, passed over my head, when I shot at it, and brought it winged to the ground. No sooner had I inspected its eye, its bill, and particularly its naked legs, than I felt assured that it was, as has been represented by those persons who had spoken to me of its exploits, a new species. I drew it whilst alive; but my intentions of preserving it and carrying it to England as a present to the Zoological Society were frustrated by its refusing food. It died in a few days, when I preserved its skin, which, along with those of other rare birds, I have since given to the British Museum, through my friend J. G. CHILDREN, Esq. of that institution. 

A few days afterwards I saw the male bird perched on the same tree, but was unable to approach him so long as I had a gun, although he frequently allowed me and my wife to pass close to the foot of the tree when we were on horseback and unarmed. I followed it in vain for nearly a fortnight, from one field to another, and from tree to tree, until our physician, Dr. JOHN B. HEREFORD, knowing my great desire to obtain it, shot it in the wing with a rifle ball, and sent it alive to me. It was still wilder than the female, erected the whole of the feathers of its head, opened its bill, and was ever ready to strike with its talons at any object brought near it. I made my drawing of the male also while still alive. 

This species, although considerably smaller than the Red-tailed Hawk, to which it is allied, is superior to it in flight and daring. Its flight is rapid, greatly protracted, and so powerful as to enable it to seize its prey with apparent ease, or effect its escape from its stronger antagonist, the Red-Tail, which pursues it on all occasions.

A richly hand-colored engraving in pristine condition. Engraved, printed, and colored by R. Havell & Son in London, J. Whatman paper, double-elephant size, 38.375 x 25.625 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 64; Ornithological Biography, or an account of the habits of the Birds of the United States of  America, John James Audubon, 1831, Vol. 1, page 441.

 $8,500 this week only (list price $12,000). Offer expires 8-7-17.

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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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