John J. Audubon, Plate 43, Night Hawk, Birds of America, Bien Edition, 1860

$6,500 this week only (list price $9,500). Offer expires 6-26-17

Joel Oppenheimer

John J. Audubon, Pl. 43 Night HawkThe Birds of America, Bien edition, 1860, chromolithograph

Acquire a rare work from the Bien edition of John J. Audubon's Birds of AmericaPl. 43 Night Hawk, Caprimulgus virginanus, Briss. This richly colored chromolithograph is being offered at a special price this week only. Two males swiftly flying in pursuit of insects are figured above a female crouching on a branch of a White Oak, Querus alba. Audubon's composition cleverly reveals the distinctive pattern of the bird's feathers on all sides of the bird by depicting the flying birds, one from the top and the other from below, and by showing a side view of the female in profile. 

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 the feeding habits and migration patterns of this species, which he has seen "all the Southern States, on its passage to and from those of the east." He further states that "Their migrations are carried on over so great an extent, and that so loosely, that you might conceive it their desire to glean the whole country, as they advance with a front extending from the mouths of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, passing in this manner from the south far beyond our eastern boundary lines. Thus they are enabled to disperse and breed throughout the whole Western and Eastern States, from South Carolina to Maine."

"The food of the Night-Hawk consists entirely of insects, especially those of the Coleopterous order, although they also seize on moths and caterpillars, and are very expert at catching crickets and grasshoppers, with which they sometimes gore themselves, as they fly low over the ground with great rapidity. They now and then drink whilst flying closely over the water, in the manner of swallows." 


"None of these birds remain during the winter in any portion of the United States. The Chuck-will's-widow alone have I heard, and found far up the St. John's river, in East Florida, in January. Frequently during autumn, at New Orleans, I have known some of these birds to remain searching for food over the meadows and river until the rainy season had begun, and then is the time at which the sportsmen shoot many of them down; but the very next day, if the weather was still drizzly, scarcely one could be seen there. When returning from the northern districts at a late period of the year, they pass close over the woods, and with so much rapidity, that you can obtain only a single glimpse of them."     


In perfect condition, chromolithograph with additional hand coloring, 1860, double-elephant folio size, 39.25 x 26.75 inches.



References: The Birds of America from Drawings Made in the United States and their Territories, John J. Audubon, Vol. 1, 1840, page 159.

 $6,500 this week only (list price $9,500). Offer expires 6-26-17.

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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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