Audubon’s Birds of America
The American Museum of Natural History sought out Alecto Historical Editions of London to publish a new edition of six of Audubon’s Birds to commemorate his 200th bicentennial.
Audubon himself, though delighted with the superb quality of his original engravings, was vastly disappointed with the colouring of many of the prints.
The process involved 17 stages of hand printing in colour from the original 19th Century plates on a copperplate rolling press, additional watercolour has added by hand. Owners of the recent edition (limited to 125 sets worldwide) need not share Audubon’s disquiet.
A rare original copy of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, billed as the world’s most expensive book, sold for a record breaking £7.3 million at Sotheby’s in London in 2010. Only 119 complete copies of the 19th-century book are known to exist, and 108 are owned by museums and libraries.
Audubon painted life-sized illustrations of almost 500 breeds in the 40-inch-high book, which merited several mentions in Darwin’s The Origin Of Species. Born in Haiti in 1785, Audubon grew up in France and emigrated to the U.S. at 18. He had been fascinated by birds since childhood and was determined to illustrate America’s breeds more realistically than ever before.
Images © Alecto Historical Editions.
“These new impressions of the 150-year-old plates could well be judged to be a finer representation of Audubon’s intentions than any produced in the artist’s lifetime.”
Sir David Attenborough