Everybody knows about the bird, right? Well, maybe not everyone. In the Special Collections we have a complete, mint condition set of the Amsterdam Edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. It has never been processed nor assessed, so I am slowly making my way through each of the 400 plus prints.
The Amsterdam Edition, is one of the finest reproductions of the original images and was limited to 250 sets sold exclusively by subscription, as were the original prints, due to the high cost of production. This edition comes in the original double elephant folio size (double elephant folio=enormous) and the colors are exquisite. As the original Audubon prints are extremely rare and valuable (one of the original sets will sit on Christie’s auction block in a couple of weeks and is expected to bring around $10 million), touching these prints-often ballyhooed as the best reproductions of the originals (and worth a hefty sum themselves)-is the closest I will ever get to Audubon’s genius.
There are many illuminating tidbits about Audubon’s creations from Birds of America. For example, he was able to recreate the intricacies of each species in large part through specimens that he shot, wired, and propped in lifelike positions. (I would like to add, however, that Audubon was meticulous in his observations of the behaviors of the living birds as well and, in my mind, this was the critical component to his interpretations.) What surprised me however (and I would have caught this detail if it wasn’t right in front of my face the entire time), is that all of Audubon’s birds of America are life-sized. Even the large birds-eagles, cranes, the California condor-are portrayed at full size. To accomplish this feat, Audubon had to bend or contort some of the birds to fit them on the page but in doing so never caused them to look unnatural. Such a visually stunning and intelligent body of work!
Though I am still in the middle of processing these prints, please feel free to come by anytime for a peek at this amazing collection. See ya soon!
Note: The above image is not of our print, but an original print that recently sold at auction.