Montier Photo Festival


Montier Photo Festival

Jean-Jacques AUDUBON (1785 - 1851)


  Parrains - Invités

  Jean-Jacques AUDUBON (or John James AUDUBON, in the United States), born in April 26th 1785, in Les Cayes (Santo Domingo) and died in January 27th 1851, in New York, is a French-american ornithologist, naturalist and painter, naturalized in 1812 and considered as the first ornithologist of the New World. He was raised in Couëron near Nantes where, from his childhood, he was passionate about natural history. In 1803, his father obtained a false passport that allowed him to travel to the United States. He came down the Mississippi River with his rifle, colour box and his assistant, with the intention of finding and painting all the species of birds in North America. From 1810, he led a wandering life as a hunter, while observing nature with love, describing and illustrating the flora and fauna, especially the birds, with great talent. Its birds are represented alive in their natural habitat. This arrangement contrasts with the representations of his contemporaries. In 1826, he landed in London with his portfolio. His success was immediate. He was celebrated as the «American woodman» and collected enough money to publish "Les Oiseaux d'Amérique", between 1830 and 1839. His work, remarkable for the accuracy of the details and the beauty of the execution, consists of four volumes, containing 435 hand-painted life-size plates. King George IV is one of his enthusiastic supporters. AUDUBON is elected as member of the Royal Society, following Benjamin FRANKLIN, who was the first American member. He added to his "Oiseaux d'Amérique" the "Biographies ornithologiques" (Edinburgh, 1831-1839, 5 volumes in-8), which contain a description of the life of each species represented. This book is written in collaboration with the Scottish ornithologist William MACGILLIVRAY. AUDUBON continued his expeditions to North America and bought a property on the Hudson, called AUDUBON Park today. On his return to his homeland, he undertook, with the help of Dr John BACHMAN (1790-1874), the description of mammals, the "Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America", published in New York in 1850. The book is finished by his sons and his wife. John James AUDUBON is probably buried in Trinity Churchyard Cemetery, New York, where there is an imposing monument erected in his honour.



The exhibition is based on "Les Oiseaux d'Amérique" (The Birds of America), a work by the American ornithologist, naturalist and painter Jean-Jacques AUDUBON (1785-1851), published between 1827 and 1838. The work consists of very large ornithological plates, representing the various birds living in the United States. The prints of the exhibition are the size of the book! In 1808 Jean-Jacques AUDUBON settled in the west and began to identify the various bird species. In 1810, he met the ornithologist Alexander WILSON: AUDIBON planned to represent these species and worked there from 1820. He then travelled throughout the United States, discovering twenty-three species of birds. The result is 435 watercolours, which have a great scientific interest, but are also noted for their artistic qualities. These watercolours are then engraved, thanks to the aquatint process, by Robert HAVELL Sr. and Robert HAVELL Jr. The birds are represented life-size, which makes the book the largest illustrated book of the world (double-elephant-folio format, about 96x66 cm). These plates, coloured by hand, are collected in "Les Oiseaux d'Amérique", which appears in London, in 4 volumes, from 1827 to 1838. The book is printed in 200 copies. Today there are only 119 complete copies (of which 108 are kept in public institutions), the others having been dispersed during the separate sale of the engravings. The book is considered one of the most expensive in the history of publishing. In 2010, one of the few copies belonging to private collections was awarded for 8.6 million euros at an auction organized by Sotheby’s in London. AUDUBON then wrote "435 Vies d'oiseaux" (Bird Biographies), to accompany the plates of the in-octavo edition, which follows the original edition. The original watercolours are kept at the New-York Historical Society, which bought them from the widow of AUDUBON.

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