News-Antique.com - Nov 30,-0001 - John James Audubonís The Birds of America
The Property of the Providence Athenaeum sold for the
Benefit of the Endowment Fund
December 15, 2005
New York, NY -- On December 15, Christieís New York will offer the Providence Athenaeumís complete copy of John James Audubonís monumental series The Birds of America. The Athenaeum was one of the original 82 American subscribers to Audubonís work, which was completed in 1838. The Athenaeum copy is expected to realize between $5 and $7 million. In March 2000, Christieís New York set a world auction record for The Birds of America when the Fox-Bute set achieved $8.8 million.
The importance of The Providence Athenaeumís copy of The Birds of America is multi-layered. Not only is it a complete set of Audubonís much coveted masterwork which in itself is already a rarity, it also comes with an impeccable provenance, being offered by the original institution that subscribed to the series in Audubonís lifetime. A second and very vivid and direct connection between The Providence Athenaeum copy and Audubon himself is found in the artistís own journals where in the entry of August 10, 1840, he refers to a visit he made to the Providence Athenaeum. Another rare and valuable feature is the unbound state of The Providence Athenaeumís copy. The original 435 hand-colored, etched and aquatinted plates are loose sheets and appear in exactly the same way they were initially published. The set was originally ordered from Audubon as unbound sheets to allow for greater display possibilities. The sheets retain their monumental dimensions Ė the so- called double elephant broad sheet size Ė insisted upon by Audubon in order to be able to recreate the birds of North America in life size.
As early as 1824, Audubon was already seeking publication of his work in Philadelphia and New York but failing to awaken interest in his project, he left for England. One of his early acquaintances here was the historian and botanist William Roscoe who helped to organize the exhibitions of Audubonís drawings that put him in contact with the scientific community. It was the American consul to Manchester, F.S. Brookes who advised Audubon to publish his ĎGreat Workí by subscription, so as to raise advance funds to cover the great expenses of his undertaking.
Audubon met several leaders of science and society and through one of them he was introduced to William Home Lizars, Ďthe best engraver in the cityí. Although Lizars embarked upon Audubonís titanic project with great enthusiasm, a strike of his colorists forced the artist to look elsewhere and he finally found the engraver who would realize his dream, Robert Havell Junior. A profound friendship was established between both men, and together they created the greatest of all bird books, arguably the highest achievement of ornithological art.
John James Audubon was born on April 25, 1785 in Santa Domingo (now Haiti) as the illegitimate child of a French sea captain and his Creole mistress. He spent his childhood partly in France,