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Uploaded on May 27, 2009
John James Audubon's paintings of North American birds in the wild are some of the New-York Historical Society's greatest treasures.. In fact, the Society holds all 435 of Audubon's preparatory watercolors for his renowned prints series The Birds of America. Since too much light can destroy their delicate colors, we rotate the displays in this Niche every three months. From his early twenties, Audubon was obsessed by one idea: to observe, record, and publish images of all of the species of birds in North America. During his life, people recognized Audubon's bird watercolors as both important documents of natural history and dazzling works of art. Audubon was one of Americas greatest watercolorists and he depicted birds in new ways. He was the first to show all the birds life size and interacting with each other. He also showed different sexes, ages, and seasonal plumages of the same species. Today, we also value his images because they include species that became extinct, and today they live only in his watercolors. Audubon and his wife Lucy hoped that his collection of watercolors would stay in the United States after his death in 1851. Both the New-York Historical Society and the British Museum wanted to buy the collection. But the $4,000 asking price for the collection was a large sum at the time, and too high for the Historical Society. For a while it seemed that the bird paintings might end up in the UK. But after a year of private fundraising, in 1863 the Society acquired the collection of 434 preparatory watercolors for The Birds of America, along with around 50 other works. Later in the 1960s, donors gave the Historical Society the final preparatory watercolor and a rare copy of whats called the double-elephant folio edition of The Birds of America, printed on the largest size of paper available. And those gifts made this national treasure complete.
The New-York Historical Society is able to produce illuminating exhibitions, public programs, and make a priceless collection accessible to the public through the generosity of donations and membership. Help us make history matter by joining today. http://www.nyhistory.org/support