John James Audubon 1785-1851
Audubon, John James ~ Bobwhite (Virginia Partridge), 1825Audubon developed his own methods for drawing birds. First, he killed them using fine shot to prevent them from being torn to pieces. He then used fixed wires to prop them up into a natural position, unlike the common method of many ornithologists of first preparing and stuffing the specimens into a rigid pose. When working on a major specimen, like an eagle, he would spend up to four 15 hour days, preparing, studying, and drawing it. His paintings of birds are set true-to-life in their natural habitat and often caught them in motion, especially feeding or hunting. This was in stark contrast with the stiff representations of birds by his contemporaries, such as Alexander Wilson. He also based his paintings on his own field observations.
He worked primarily with watercolor early on, then added colored chalk or pastel to add softness to feathers, especially those of owls and herons. He would employ multiple layers of watercoloring, and sometimes use gouache. Small species were often drawn to scale, placed on branches with berries, fruit, and flowers, sometimes in flight, and often with many individual birds to present all views of anatomy. Larger birds were often placed in their ground habitat or perching on stumps. At times, as with woodpeckers, he would combine several species on one page to offer contrasting features. Nests and eggs are frequently depicted as well, and occasionally predators, such as snakes. He usually illustrated male and female variations, and sometimes juveniles. In later drawings, he had aides render the habitat for him. Going behind faithful renderings of anatomy, Audubon employed carefully constructed composition, drama, and slightly exaggerated poses to achieve artistic as well as scientific effects. Golden Eagle 1833-4
watercolour graphite and pencil 96.6 x 64.7 cm
(38 x 251/2 in)
New York Historical Society (mk63)