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John James Audubon

 

 

John James Audubon (1785-1851) was not the first person to attempt to paint and describe all the birds of America, but for half a century he was the young country’s dominant wildlife artist. His seminal Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size prints, is still a standard against which 20th and 21st century bird artists are measured. Audubon was born in Saint Domingue (now Haiti).

Early on, he was raised by his stepmother, Mrs. Audubon, in Nantes, France, and took a lively interest in birds, nature, drawing, and music. In 1803, at the age of 18, he was sent to America, in part to escape conscription into the Emperor Napoleon’s army. He lived on the family-owned estate at Mill Grove, near Philadelphia, where he hunted, studied, and drew birds.

He continued to draw birds as a hobby, amassing an impressive portfolio. Audubon set off on his epic quest to depict America’s avifauna, with nothing but his gun, artist’s materials, and a young assistant. 

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