March 30-November 3, 2019
John James Audubon: Obsession Untamed colorfully explores the naturalist’s relentless pursuit of the birds of America and his singular determination in seeing his beautiful artworks published. In 1820 Audubon embarked on what would become his life’s work as “portraitist of all the birds of America.” This witness to America’s Heroic Age translated his obsession into a successful business venture that resulted in arguably the most enduring images associated with the modern conservation movement. His role as a frontiersman capturing a then-young America’s wilderness while traveling the principal interior flyway along the Mississippi epitomizes the spirit of the age.
John James Audubon (1785-1851) was born in Haiti (then the French colony of Saint-Domingue) the youngest of four sons of a French Navy Lieutenant and his mistress. In 1803 an 18-year-old Audubon was sent to his father’s estate “Mill Grove” twenty miles from Philadelphia, PA largely to avoid fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. This would serve as his introduction to wildlife that dominated his professional pursuits in eventually creating both Birds of America and his published work on mammals, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America
. In Birds of America
he succeeded in originating his own artistic style—that of the living bird in action and in its natural habitat. His influence in both ornithology and natural history endure to this day.
The exhibition draws upon the Preservation Society’s collections as well as significant loans from private collections and institutions. Highlights include over 20 beautifully framed hand colored double elephant folio-sized aquatints from Birds of America
, exquisite ladies hats and fans illustrating the early-20th-century craze for feathers that lead to initial conservation efforts, as well as Audubon’s life mask and snuff box.