John J. Audubon, Plate 273, Golden-winged Woodpecker, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860

$7,500 this week only (list price $11,000). Offer expires 9-25-17

Joel Oppenheimer

John J. Audubon, Pl. 273 Golden-winged WoodpeckerThe Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860, chromolithograph


Acquire a rare work from the Bien edition of John J. Audubon's Birds of AmericaPl. 273 Golden-winged Woodpecker, Picus auratus, Linn.. The current name, Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus. Enjoy significant savings on this richly colored chromolithograph this week only.

In The Original Watercolors for the Birds of America, Roberta J.M. Olson describes how this elegant composition, which Audubon began in 1821, evolved while he was in London  in 1828 overseeing the engraving of the plates.  

Audubon had painted from life the two quarreling eastern race females at the top of the sheet, but after reviewing it for engraving, concluded that the work lacked complexity and added a five-inch strip of paper at the lower edge. Without access to the American species in London but wishing to remain true to nature, he copied the male at the lower right verbatim from [Alexander] Wilson's illustration, which he cited as a taxonomic source. In a true mark of genius he also inserted the heads of two other males from the same model, peeking out from the lichen-covered tree. By cropping them different ways he created a bit of intrigue....

In the text that accompanies this plate in the Ornithological Biography or account of the habits of birds of the United States of America, Audubon discusses the character as well as the habits and habitat of this species of woodpecker.

Even in confinement, the Golden-winged Woodpecker never suffers its naturally lively spirit to droop. It feeds well, and by way of amusement, will continue to destroy as much furniture in a day as can well be mended by a different kind of workman in two. Therefore, kind reader, do not any longer believe that Woodpeckers are such stupid, forlorn, dejected and unprovided for beings as they have hitherto been represented. In fact, I know not one of the species found in our extensive woods, that does not exhibit quite as much mirth and gaiety as the present bird. They are serviceable birds in many points of view, and therefore are seldom shot at, unless by idlers; their flesh, moreover, not being very savoury. They have ample range, and wherever they alight, there is to be found the food to which they at all times give decided preference.

Excellent condition and color, chromolithograph, 1860, double-elephant folio size, 38.125 x 26.25 inches

References: 

An Index and Guide to Audubon's Birds of America, Susanne M. Low, 1988, page 48; The Original Watercolors for the Birds of America, Roberta J.M. Olson, pages 69–70; The Birds of America from Drawings Made in the United States and their Territories, John J. Audubon, Vol. IV, 1839, pages 282–283.


 $7,500 this week only (list price $11,000). Offer expires 9-25-17.

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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 19th-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.

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