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Books: Recommended
Audubon Art

Below is an overview of books that reproduce Audubon's art including both his prints and paintings. This is not a comprehensive list of art books devoted to Audubon. It represents the books with which I am most familiar, and is restricted to the larger publications, the books that reproduce all -- rather than selections -- of the work for a specific edition in the case of the prints, or is a significant collection of work in the case of the watercolors.

The books are divided based on Audubon's work including books for

The Birds of America: Original Watercolors

OLSON, Roberta [with other contributors]: Audubon's Aviary: The Original Watercolors for The Birds of America; New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2012. This book was written to both anticipate and accompany the New-York Historical Society's three-part exhibition of their complete collection of Audubon watercolors. An exploration of Audubon's development and techniques as an artist, this lavishly illustrated book is a must for anyone interested in Audubon or the original art that was the basis of the magnificent engraved plates comprising the most important and influential set of bird illustrations ever published.

AUDUBON, John James [with text by Scott V. Edwards, Richard Rhodes and Leslie A. Morris]: Audubon: Early Drawings; Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008. This volume reproduces a collection of Audubon's early paintings now held by Harvard University's Houghton Library and Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. These important early works of both North American and European birds, mostly painted from 1805 to 1815, were purchased in 1824 by Audubon's (then new) friend Edward Harris as a means of assisting the struggling artist. This beautiful oversized volume (in slipcase) presents the full collection of 116 portraits of species that Audubon collected in America and in Europe. The reproductions are accompanied by an essay on the sources of Audubon’s art by Richard Rhodes (author of an excellent Audubon biography) ; transcription of Audubon’s own annotations to the drawings, including information on when and where the specimens were collected; ornithological commentary and reflections on Audubon as scientist by Scott V. Edwards; and an account of the history of the Harris collection by Leslie A. Morris.

AUDUBON, John James [Edited by Annette Blaugrund and Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr.]: John James Audubon - The Watercolors for the Birds of America; New York: Villard Books, 1993. With excellent essays by Stebbins, Blaugrund, Amy R. W. Meyers, and Reba Fishman Snyder that describe how Audubon worked.  Lavishly illustrated.  The hardcover edition includes an index (each painting illustrated in color in a small format) of all of the Audubon bird paintings in the New-York Historical Society collection.  The softcover edition lacks this index, but includes the many other illustrations and the fine text in its entirety.  

AUDUBON, John James [Introduction and notes by Marshall B. Davidson]: The Original Water-Color Paintings by John James Audubon for the Birds of America; New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1966. Published in two volumes (also available in a single volume), this large set reproduces in folio format all 431 surviving paintings that were the basis of the 435 plates of the Havell Edition. Paintings are arranged "to present the most pleasurable visual sequence" and to accommodate the needs of two-page and foldout reproductions. This makes it difficult to compare the paintings side-by-side with reproductions of the plates. Fortunately, the commentary accompanying each plate lists the corresponding Havell plate number. It also describes the differences between the paintings and the engravings, and points out interesting features of each painting. A valuable and interesting reference that provides insight into Audubon's working method and his collaboration with Havell.

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The Birds of America: Havell Edition

AUDUBON, John James, [Introduction by David Allen Sibley]: The Birds of America; London: Sterling, 2011. A worthy addition to the library of anyone with an interest in Audubon's prints. Handsomely bound in dark blue cloth and with a decorated slipcover, this book is beautifully produced. The book includes a brief introduction by David Allen Sibley, and addresses a major deficiency of many modern Audubon editions by including the writing (bird name and key to figures, part and plate numbers, credits to artist and printer) that is an important part of the prints of the era. The one thing I find somewhat jarring about this book are the size discrepancies between the bird reproductions. The reproductions of Audubon's smallest images actually takes up a little bit more room of each page than the reproductions of his largest images, while the reproductions of the medium images have been reduced even more in order to fit the short dimension onto the width of the page. The effect is particularly exaggerated for the vertically-oriented prints. Thus what were originally medium-sized images look very small in the book when compared to what were originally small and large images. This discrepancy in size affects all books that reproduce the Double Elephant Folio in a reduced-size format, but it is more noticeable in the case of this book, I believe because the page width is narrower than is typical for a book of this height. Also disappointing is the lack of easy-to-use page numbers that allow quick access to images using the index. Although there is an index, it relates bird name (Audubon’s bird name, not the current name) to the plate number on the print, meaning that the index uses both Arabic and Roman numbers depending on what appears on the original plate. In the case of this particular set, many of the first 100 prints have Arabic plate numbers, but the majority of plate numbers are in Roman numbers (as is normal for the DEF). Many people have difficulty with Roman numbers, and will find this frustrating. It would have been easy enough to include page numbers in the far corner of each page, out of the image area but still visible on the page.

AUDUBON, John James: Birds of America; San Diego: Laurel Glen, 1997 and others. The complete collection of 435 illustrations from the most famous bird book in the world. Until the publication of the 2011 book listed above, this was the only book that reproduced all 435 plates of the Havell Edition in color with virtually all original text and titles visible. The color in this book usually appears truer than that in other books, although the blues can be a bit dark. The book includes some notes on the birds in the back of the book. The main things lacking in this book are an introduction to Audubon's art, an index by bird name and (most annoying of all) page numbers. The "regular" version of this book is a decent but not impressive volume with a dust jacket that is often found with light damage. The book is also available in a generally nice upscale version with leather binding. This "deluxe" edition was published under one of two imprints (Easton Press or Welcome Rain).

AUDUBON, John James, [PETERSON, Roger Tory & Virginia Marie Peterson]: Audubon's Birds of America - The Audubon Society's Baby Elephant Folio.  New York: Abbeville Press, 1981 and others. This book reproduces the 435 plates of the Havell Edition in phylogenetic order and with titles indicating the modern bird names.  Colors are bright, the illustrations are big, and the effect is often stunning, but we find the book difficult to use because of its weight, and would prefer plates in the original order and with original titles.  The book includes commentary on each of the 435 plates, a concordance relating the names and numbers of the original plates to the book plates, and an illustrated introduction that surveys the work of other artists who have illustrated North American birds.  The book is available in a variety of formats,  some plain, some more elaborate. There is also a very small version that can make a handy take-along reference if you don't mind the reordering and renaming. This small version lacks the text and the concordance and the colors are a little strange, but its by far the most compact way to take the Double Elephant Folio wherever you go.

AUDUBON, John James: The Birds of America; New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937. With an introduction and descriptive text by William Vogt.  This edition includes 500 color plates, 435 from the Havell Edition and 65 from the Octavo Edition.  All original writing on the plates is omitted, but the plates are printed in the original order.  Each book plate includes a brief description of the bird at the bottom. The limited edition version of this book (on rag paper) is nicer than the mass market version. It is hard to think of any reason to pick this book over others unless you want to have copies of the "extra" plates from the octavo edition without buying a book on the octavo edition.

AUDUBON, John James: The Birds of America; New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942 and later. With an introduction and descriptive text by William Vogt.  This edition reproduces the 435 plates of the Havell Edition only. The illustrations omit the original writing on the plates, but include a brief description of the bird, its habits, and modern name. It is the same as the book described above, but without the 65 octavo plates. I occasionally use this book to provide an additional illustration of a specific plate, but the print quality is not sharp and the colors seem dark. The book is, however, inexpensive compared to others.

CHRISTIE'S: John James Audubon: The Birds of America; Auction of September 14 and 15, 1987. New York: Christie's. The property of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences (435 lots).  This is an excellent auction catalogue, illustrating 434 of 435 plates of the Havell Edition in color and black-and-white.  (The set had a duplicate of plate 231, Long-billed curlew, bound in place of plate 281, Great White Heron.) Such sales no longer occur as the value of the whole now exceeds the value of the parts.  This is an interesting reference for those curious about 1987 prices.  Unlike most catalogues, this one includes very good notes on the condition of each plate. 

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The Birds of America: Octavo Edition

AUDUBON, John James: The Art of Audubon - The Complete Birds and Mammals; New York: Times Books, 1979.  This is the only book I know of that reproduces both the octavo birds and the octavo quads in a single volume.  Although the bird images appear to be first editions, artist's and printer's credits often appear with block letters instead of the expected italics. Thus the reproductions may be from one of the post-1844 sets that predate the second (1856) edition. This book appears to faithfully reprint the plates without any significant alterations, but they are not ordered correctly. This makes the book a bit maddening to use, but it is otherwise a decent reference and contains a grand total of 655 illustrations.

AUDUBON, John James: Audubon's Birds of North America - The Complete 500 Paintings; Secaucus, NJ: The Wellfleet Press, 1990. Introduction by Sheila Buff. This book reproduces a later edition of the octavo Birds of America series. The book does not indicate which edition was reproduced, but I contacted Wellfleet's publishing director for this title, Frank Oppel, and I have confirmed the book reproduces an 1870 Lockwood edition including all legends and titles. This book is very useful for anyone interested in understanding the changes over time in the octavo bird series. One thing that I learned from this book that may intrigue octavo collectors -- there are later edition octavo bird plates that include italic credits for the artist and printer.  Several are reproduced in this book.

AUDUBON, John James: Audubon's Birds of America - The Royal Octavo Edition; San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 1994.  Introduction by Susanne M. Low.  Reproduces a complete first edition octavo set of The Birds of America.  The 500 plates are beautifully printed in color, and given in the original order, but liberties are taken with the presentation of some plates (e.g., some landscape-oriented plates are printed with a vertical orientation). Titles and other writing on the plates may occasionally have been cut off, omitted or relocated during the printing process. Because the color plates are printed on one side of the page only, this book is quite heavy. I think the images in this book are the best reproductions of the octavo birds currently available in a book format.

Audubon, John James: The Birds of America; New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1967. This 7-volume paperback set includes the complete letter press (Audubon's text) and 500 black and white reproduction plates from the first octavo birds edition (including all text and titles).  It is hard not to like this bookm which was (according to its cover) the "first reprint of Audubon's important text since 1871." Hard to find as a set, but fairly inexpensive relative to other options.

AUDUBON, John James: The Complete Audubon. A precise replica of the complete works of John James Audubon comprising the Birds of America (1840-44) and the Quadrupeds of N. America (1851-54) in their entirety.  Kent OH: Volair Limited, 1978-1979.  The Birds of America (7 volumes) and The Quadrupeds of North America (3 volumes) reproduced in a single five-volume set (two of the original volumes per modern volume).  This book reproduces the letterpress and the plates of both the octavo birds and quadrupeds in a single set.  Books are somewhat heavy with a very inexpensive binding that does not hold up well over time.  Issued in commemoration of the National Audubon Society's 75th Anniversary, this set is also available in a more expensive deluxe (probably imitation) leather version including 10 volumes.  The reproductions in this book are the same as those in the much less expensive single-volume book The Art of Audubon published by Times Books in 1979 (the first book listed in this section).  The inclusion of the letterpress is a significant bonus, but I prefer the value and easy handling of the 7-volume set (with b&w illustrations) from Dover Publications.

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The Viviparous Quadrupeds of  North America: Imperial Folio Edition

AUDUBON, John James and BACHMAN, Rev. John: The Imperial Collection of Audubon Animals - The Quadrupeds of North America; New York: Bonanza Books, 1967 (and others). Edited and with new text by Victor H. Cahalane. This book came out in various editions, but the contents do not vary from edition to edition as far I know. This book reproduces the 150 images from the Imperial Folio, and includes excerpts from the original letterpress. Cahalane also provides current information on each animal, and corrects the many errors in classification that were contained in the original. Unfortunately, the illustrations omit all text and titles from the plates and are grouped according to type, rather than in order of publication. There is a key included, matching the name from the plate to the current name. Unfortunately, this is probably the best book available for those interested in the Imperial Folio.

FORD, Alice: Audubon's Animals - The Quadrupeds of North America; New York: The Studio Publications, Inc., 1954 (and others). This book reproduces (mostly in black and white) the images of the Imperial Folio edition (without text or titles and organized by animal type rather than by the original plate numbers). Written by Audubon scholar Alice Ford, this book provides a good introduction to the story of the quadrupeds series, and includes short excerpts from the original letterpress. Even though the illustrations are in black and white, they are often larger than the ones in the Cahalane book, and each illustration has an indication of the original artist (based on the corrected attributions in the octavo, rather than the folio edition).  I consider that a good reason to own the volume.

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The Quadrupeds of  North America: Octavo Edition

AUDUBON, John James: The Art of Audubon, the Complete Birds and Mammals; New York: Times Books, 1979. This is the only book I know of that reproduces both the octavo birds and the octavo quads in a single volume. The book does not say which octavo edition the quadruped images are from, but the reproductions are identical to the 1851-1854 set reproduced in Volair's The Complete Audubon (see below). The seemingly random order of the plates can be annoying at times. The reproductions appear to be generally accurate and the book has a good index; it provides a (good enough?) reference on the octavo quads for those whose main interest is the birds.

AUDUBON, John James and BACHMAN, Rev. John: The Quadrupeds of North America - Complete and Unabridged; Secaucus, NJ: The Wellfleet Press, 1990.  Reproduces one of the octavo quad editions (circa mid-1850s) including plates and letterpress in a single volume.  Format is larger than the original which allows the prints to be shown at larger-than-original size while the text is squeezed into two columns in a smaller font.  If you want a complete copy of the letterpress and plates of the octavo quads in a single volume, then this is one of the more economical ways to get it.

AUDUBON, John James: The Complete Audubon. A precise replica of the complete works of John James Audubon comprising the Birds of America (1840-44) and the Quadrupeds of N. America (1851-54) in their entirety.  Kent OH: Volair Limited, 1978-1979. The Birds of America (7 volumes) and The Quadrupeds of North America (3 volumes) reproduced in a single five-volume set (two of the original volumes per modern volume). This book reproduces the letterpress and the plates of both the octavo birds and quadrupeds in a single set. Books are somewhat heavy with an inexpensive binding that does not hold up well over time.  Issued in commemoration of the National Audubon Society's 75th Anniversary, this set is also available in a more expensive deluxe (probably imitation) leather version including 10 volumes. The reproductions in this book are the same as those in the much less expensive single-volume book The Art of Audubon published by Times Books in 1979 (the first book listed in this section). The inclusion of the letterpress is a significant bonus.

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Other Work

AUDUBON, John James: Audubon: Early Drawings; Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 2008. Edited by Scott V. Edwards, with introduction by Richard Rhodes and forward by Leslie A. Morris. Very interesting and beautifully illustrated large-format book highlighting early natural history paintings (birds and mammals) by Audubon mostly done from 1805 to 1815, now owned by Harvard University and formerly belonging to Audubon's friend and patron Edward Harris. The book includes transcriptions of Audubon's notes as they appear on each painting, information on when and where the specimens were collected, commentary by Edwards, and an account of the history of the Harris collection by Morris.

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