James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

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James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:12 am

World's most expensive book, Birds of America, set to fetch $10m

Edition of John James Audubon's masterpiece of ornithological art, one of only 120, expected to break auction records

Alison Flood

guardian.co.uk, Friday 6 January 2012 15.00 GMT


Birds of America … a swan painted by John James Audubon in the book expected to sell for £10m. Photograph: Christie's Images Limited 2011

A copy of the world's most expensive book, John James Audubon's 19th-century masterpiece Birds of America, is set for auction later this month and is expected to sell for up to $10m (£6.5m).

Only 120 complete sets of Audubon's 435 hand-coloured, life-sized engravings of America's birds are believed to exist today, with the majority (107) owned by institutions. The last full edition of The Birds of America, which went up for auction in 2010, sold for £7.3m at Sotheby's, breaking the world record for a single book. The new set was bought by the fourth Duke of Portland at some point after 1838 and is in "excellent" condition, said Christie's, through whom it is being sold.

The auction house has given the edition a guide price of $7m-$10m, leaving experts to wonder if it will break 2010's record when it opens to bids on 20 January in New York.

"Birds of America is most significant for its sheer beauty. It's a masterpiece of illustration," said Richard Davies of rare and used book specialist AbeBooks. "Aside from being famous in the rare book world, Birds of America has also immense historical and ornithological importance. Some of the birds John James Audubon painted are extinct and he also discovered new species."

Davies said that while the estimated value of the Duke of Portland set is "sky high ... [it] is in excellent condition [and] if the record does fall, then no one should be overly surprised because a rare book like this is recession-proof".

Measuring over three feet in height and running to four volumes, The Birds of America was created by Audubon between 1827 and 1838. The illegitimate son of a French sea captain and his creole mistress, Audubon was an itinerant artist who travelled America's wilderness drawing the birds he loved. He was insistent that The Birds of America was made up of life-size illustrations, and that it showed all the known species of north America, making the finished volume "the greatest of all bird books, [and] arguably the highest achievement of ornithological art", said Christie's.

Whatever Birds of America is, said rare book dealer and author Rick Gekoski, "it isn't a book, not in any normal sense of the term". In fact, the volumes consist of "a large number of works of art – original hand-coloured engravings – bound together for ease of storage and reference," he said. "The format was chosen not out of any grandiosity but because it was Audubon's remarkable desire – and ability – to produce life-sized engravings of each bird. Thus the finches and cardinals have plenty of space in which to flit about, while the flamingo and trumpeter swan tilt their necks graciously inward and arrange themselves with some care. The effect of this is just terrific."

Picking up a copy of the "book" is a two-person job, said the dealer, who examined an edition at Sotheby's once prior to an auction. "The (very nervous) resident expert and I (gingerly) turned the pages together, him at the top and me at the bottom, and peeled them back (respectfully) into just the right conjunction with the rest of the plates," said Gekoski. "You have to be careful how you handle a gargantuan book worth more than 10 million dollars."

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Re: James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:16 am

One for Constance:
*************************************************************************************************************

John James Audubon's colour plate of Carolina parrots in Birds of America. In Audubon's time, the only species of parrot native to the US, it is now extinct. Photograph: Christie's Images Limited 2011.

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Re: James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:25 am


John James Audubon's colour plate of the Snowy owl in Birds of America. Audubon developed his fascination with birds early in life, catching the enthusiasm from his father. "I felt an intimacy with them … bordering on frenzy [that] must accompany my steps through life," his biographer Richard Rhodes says. Photograph: Christie's Images Limited 2011

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Re: James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:29 am


John James Audubon's colour plate of the common American swan, from Birds of America. Although Audubon was careful to preserve lifelike poses for his birds – within the constraints of the printed page – he would prepare his specimens he had killed with fine shot. He would spend some four 15-hour days preparing the finished painting using wires to prop up the birds. Photograph: Christie's Images Limited 2011

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Re: James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

Post  Nah Ville Sky Chick on Sun Jan 08, 2012 5:45 am

What a beautiful book. It's enormous too. I recently saw it on a programme about art in America, it took two men to turn each page.

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Re: James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

Post  Nah Ville Sky Chick on Sun Jan 08, 2012 5:48 am


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Re: James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 08, 2012 6:10 am

Nah Ville Sky Chick wrote:What a beautiful book. It's enormous too. I recently saw it on a programme about art in America, it took two men to turn each page.


This first edition of Birds of America by John James Audubon, originally bought by the Duke of Portland some time after 1828, is expected to become the world's most expensive book when it is auctioned at Christie's later this month. The individual volumes stand some three feet tall. The guide price is $7m-$10m.

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Re: James Audubon's Birds of America- in pictures

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