John J. Audubon, Plate 395, Canvas-backed Duck, Black-bellied Darter, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860

$14,750 this week only (list price $22,000). Offer expires 5-15-17

Joel Oppenheimer

John J. Audubon, Pl. 395 Canvas-backed DuckThe Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860, chromolithograph

Acquire one of John J. Audubon's most iconic and beautiful plates, Pl. 395 Canvas-backed Duck, Fuligula vallisneriana, Steph., from the Bien edition of The Birds of America. This richly colored chromolithograph is available this week only at a special price. A masterful composition, two adult males and a female are depicted along the water's edge with a view of Baltimore in the background.

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 notes a distinction in the migration patterns of this species, updating the account of his predecessor in cataloging American ornithology, Alexander Wilson (1766–1814), who first described this species.


"According to Alexander Wilson...their arrival in the Middle Districts takes place about the 15th of October; but more recent writers say that "unless the weather to the north has been severe, the Canvass-back rarely appears till the middle of November." With this I fully agree, being convinced that their journeys to and from their breeding places are performed across the country. Were this perfectly ascertained, it would prove that this species, unlike most other Ducks, instead of removing farther southward in autumn and winter, takes what may be a lateral march toward our Eastern Districts, in which it remains until the weather has become too cold for its constitution, when it is forced a second time to migrate, and betake itself to warmer parts of the country, where it continues during the rest of the winter."     


In perfect condition, chromolithograph with additional hand coloring, 1860, double-elephant folio size, 39.375 x 26.625 inches.  

 $14,750 this week only (list price $22,000). Offer expires 5-15-17.

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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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