Gallery Artists > John James Audubon Biography :

John James Audubon (1785 - 1851)  Artworks >>

Important bird and quadruped painter, naturalist, work in “Birds of America,” “Quadrupeds of North America”

Audubon’s father was a ship captain successful as merchant, planter, and slave dealer in Haiti while his wife remained in France. Audubon’s mother was a Creole slave. Brought to France at four, Audubon was legitimatized and educated among the well-to-do. At 15 he was drawing French birds, and at 17 studied drawing with David in Paris. In 1803, Audubon was sent to Pennsylvania to manage his father’s estate, a sportsman in pumps, beginning his ventures into ornithology. From 1807 to 1819 he engaged in a series of failing businesses on the Kentucky frontier. When he was jailed for debt, bankruptcy left him only his clothes, his gun, and his drawings of birds. After a short stay as taxidermist at the Cincinnati museum 1819-20, he set his goals on publishing his bird drawings. While Mrs. Audubon supported the family, he traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and the Great Lakes, exploring for birds. Unable to find a publisher in Philadelphia in 1824, Audubon went to Liverpool, Edinburgh, and London 1826-27 where William Lizars and Robert Havell, Jr. were his engravers. The original drawings of more than 1,000 birds were in mixed media, watercolor, pencil, pens, and pastel to accomplish the various effects desired, but when he paid his way with copies were in oil, Audubon returned to the US in 1831 as its foremost naturalist.

In 1837, Audubon was granted a navel cutter to explore the coastline from New Orleans to Galveston where he spent three weeks. In Houston, he met with Gen. Houston at the time of the celebration of Texas independence, but found no new bird species. In 1843, Audubon went up to Missouri to Fort Union and made an overland trip along the Yellowstone, seeing birds where Carlin had seen Indians. He returned in Indian hunting dress with live deer, badgers, and foxes in addition to his portfolios and collected artifacts. His later years were spent at his Hudson River estate.

Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST, Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

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