The Complete Audubon – HistoryMiami puts the spotlight where it belongs

THE EXHIBITION – ADDITIONAL POINTS OF INTEREST

Four of the plates in The Birds of America show extinct birds — PL 26 Carolina Parrot (Carolina Parakeet), PL 62 Passenger Pigeon, PL 332 Pied Duck (Labrador Duck), and PL 341 Great Auk. Also very likely extinct are the birds in PL 66 Ivory-billed Woodpecker, PL 185 Bachman’s Warbler, and PL 208 Esquimaux Curlew (Eskimo Curlew).

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PL 168 Fork-tailed Flycatcher, native to Central and South America. Maria Martin contributed the stunning botanical.

Some of the birds depicted in the Havell Edition are not actually native to North America. In some cases Audubon definitely saw the bird in North America (e.g., the model for PL 168 Fork-tailed Flycatcher was collected in Camden, NJ), but in others he was most likely either mistaken in his field identification (PL 269 Greenshank), or was sent a specimen that was most likely collected elsewhere (PL 96 Columbia Jay).

There are some birds in Audubon’s work that cannot be identified. One of the most often mentioned of these “birds of mystery” (a term used in the work of author Susanne Low) is PL 60 Carbonated Warbler.

PL 2 Yellow-billed Cuckoo was misidentified by Lizars in the first printing as the Black-billed Cuckoo (which appears in PL 32). HistoryMiami’s print is one of several pulled from the Lizars copper plate (before it was corrected by Havell) that has the incorrect parts of the printed names scratched out and replaced with handwritten corrections.

PL 11 Bird of Washington depicts a huge immature bald eagle that Audubon mistook for a new species based on its large size. Thus the Bald Eagle is depicted in three plates in the Havell Edition, this one, PL 31 White-headed Eagle (depicting an adult bird), and PL 126 White-headed Eagle (Young). Apparently Audubon persisted in believing the bird in Plate 11 was a new species. I have read correspondence between his sons after his death that suggests they were still looking for vindication of his identification. Interestingly, some authors have speculated that the Bird of Washington was in fact a different species, one on the verge of extinction when Audubon saw it.

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HistoryMiami’s folio includes the earlier of two known versions of PL 16 Great-footed Hawk.

 

In a later state of PL 16 Great-footed Hawk, Audubon had Havell add the names of the species of birds being torn apart by the Peregrine Falcons. The duck on the left is a Green-winged Teal, while the one on the right is a Gadwall.

In HistoryMiami’s print of PL 21 The Mocking Bird — a first state print — the rattlesnake gets equal billing with the bird species. Audubon’s depiction of a tree-climbing rattlesnake was highly controversial, and in the second state of the print the rattlesnake goes unbilled.

Audubon and Wilson depictions of bald eagle.

Audubon’s image of the adult Bald Eagle (PL 31 White-headed Eagle) is similar to that of Alexander Wilson.

 

PL 31 White-headed Eagle is posed similarly to the one in Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology. This of course was noticed and commented on by other naturalists, especially since Audubon’s version is noticeably superior. I’ve read some recent speculation that the similarity arose from use of the same model (a stuffed specimen located in a collection in Philadelphia) as opposed to a deliberate attempt to show up Wilson.

The fleeing bluebird in PL 36 Stanley Hawk appears again in PL 113 Blue-Bird as a responsible parent flying off to find food for a hungry youngster.

Audubon used the Grey Squirrel appearing in PL 46 Barred Owl in his next major work (a folio edition depicting the mammals of North America).

The “starring” species in PL 76 Virginian Partridge is the Bobwhite Quail, not the scene-stealing Red-shouldered Hawk that is unidentified on the plate. Audubon was inconsistent about listing predator and prey species. Sometimes they were noted in the final state of the print (as was the case of the ducks being eaten by the Peregrine Falcons in PL 16), sometimes not.

The bottom bird in PL 117 Mississippi Kite (listed as a female) is a mirror-image copy of a male bird shown on a plate in American Ornithology by Alexander Wilson. It is still a mystery, what was behind this bird’s inclusion. Audubon’s original watercolor for this species shows only the top bird. It is possible Havell added the bottom bird from Wilson’s work on his own initiative.

Two out of the 435 plates in the Double Elephant Folio — PL 240 Roseate Tern and PL 250 Arctic Tern — are printed with dark blue rather than black ink. The difference between these and the other prints is very subtle, but discernible upon close examination of the prints (e.g., in the title areas).

Comparison between PL 402 and print after John Webber

PL 402 Black-throated Guillemot (bottom) and the source print on which Havell based his background.

 

The background in the mixed-species print PL 402 Black-throated Guillemot was taken by Robert Havell from a print showing Snug Corner Cove in Prince William Sound, Alaska. After John Webber, the original print  first appeared in the atlas volume of Captain Cook’s A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, published 1784.

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