Thomas Nygard Gallery - 19th and 20th Century American Art



(1785 – 1851)

John James

John James Audubon was born in Santo Domingo (current day Haiti), the illegitimate son of a French sea captain working as an agent for a Nantes, France mercantile firm in Santo Domingo and his French mistress.  As a youth he claimed a lively interest in birds, nature, drawing and music.  He collected and stuffed small birds in order to draw them.


In 1803, at the age of 18, with the demise of his family’s fortune when the French lost political control of Santo Domingo, Audubon was sent to live on the family owned estate at Mill Grove, near Philadelphia.  Here he hunted, studied, drew.  It was here that Audubon conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North America.


In 1826 he sailed to England with his partly finished collection of life size, highly dramatic bird portraits, embellished with his descriptions of their native wilderness.  Without formal artistic training Audubon became acclaimed for his work in ornithological documentation.  He met the leaders of society in England and was elected into membership of the Royal Society of London.


Eventually Audubon contracted with the printers Robert Harvell and Son to print editions of his drawings and established a life long friendship with Robert Harvell, Jr.  The Birds of America, a series of 435 images.  The Birds of America became a definitive work of American art.


Audubon’s successful discovery and documentation of the American Frontier are testament to his triumph over adversity.  He is remembered as a keen observer of birds and nature, and an avid supporter of conservation and habitat.

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