Audubon’s Passion Opens at the Amon Carter Museum

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Tracy Greene
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Jessica Poole
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Release date: 
October 6, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas --- Images from one of the most beautiful works of illustrated natural history ever published will be on view beginning October 7 at the Amon Carter Museum in Audubon’s Passion, an exhibition featuring some of the earliest works from John James Audubon’s The Birds of America. The story of its creation is a remarkable tale of passion, perseverance, and familial devotion.

“This exhibition presents a unique opportunity to view many examples from the most important printed versions of Audubon’s ”˜great work,’” said Library Director Allen Townsend. “Not only are most of the Carter’s Birds of America prints included, but we have also secured loans of variant versions of prints and preparatory sketches, including the famous Bien Audubon, to fully illustrate the enduring story of John James Audubon’s lifelong passionate pursuit.”

Born in Saint Domingue (now Haiti), Audubon began drawing birds during his childhood in Nantes, France. After arriving in America in 1803, he became a merchant. In his spare time, he continued to pursue his avocation, drawing birds and laying the groundwork for an ambitious project to illustrate every bird in the United States in life-size drawings. By 1820, despite having a wife and children to support, he devoted himself almost entirely to this venture.

As work on the ornithology progressed, Audubon’s family joined the project; after 11 years, the final print was produced in July 1838. It contained 435 plates, made from 433 original paintings, representing roughly 449 species of birds. Scholars estimate that the Audubon family produced between 175 and 200 complete sets of the double elephant folio. Today, 120 complete copies are known to exist. Even while producing what Audubon called his “great work,” the artist began to consider creating a smaller edition and eventually published several octavo printings of The Birds of America that were more affordable.

In all, 36 works will be on view in the exhibition, including the Bonaparte Audubons. This title refers to Charles Lucien Bonaparte, the Prince of Musignano, nephew of Napoleon, and accomplished amateur ornithologist. Audubon had met Bonaparte in Philadelphia in 1824. In December 1827, Audubon shipped these 15 prints from London to Bonaparte in Philadelphia. By the time the prints arrived, however, Bonaparte had left the United States, and the crate containing the prints remained at customs until Bonaparte arranged for a colleague to collect it. Although Bonaparte had become one of the earliest of Audubon’s subscribers, he never took possession of these prints, which descended through his colleague’s family until they were acquired by the Carter in 1965.

Audubon’s Passion will be on view at the Carter until January 7, 2007. Admission is free.

Public Programs

Saturday, November 11, 11 a.m.
LECTURE
Audubon’s Great National Work
Ron Tyler, Director of the Amon Carter Museum
A renowned Audubon scholar, Dr. Tyler will discuss John James Audubon’s The Birds of America in conjunction with the current museum exhibition Audubon’s Passion.