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
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.