John James Audubon

(Jean Jacques Audubon)

1785 - 1851

Ornithologist, naturalist and illustrator. Born Jean Jacques Audubon in Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (now Haiti), Audubon was the son of a French naval officer and plantation-owner. The family returned to Nantes in 1789, where Audubon was raised in the midst of the French revolution. He was not academically-inclined, but quickly developed an interest in drawing nature. Audubon was sent to the USA at the age of 18 to avoid conscription into the Napoleonic army. A chance encounter with a Scottish ornithologist, Alexander Wilson (1766 - 1813), enthused him to begin systematically drawing the birds of America, a task which was to occupy him for fifteen years. Having failed to find a publisher in the USA, Audubon came to Europe. In Edinburgh, he found a publisher, engraver and subscribers. However, Audubon insisted that the birds should be shown life-size and this necessitated the largest format of book possible at the time. After only ten plates had been completed, Audubon and his Edinburgh printer parted company and the remainder of the work was carried out in London. The accompanying text was largely written in Edinburgh in collaboration with the naturalist William MacGillivray (1796 - 1852). Audubon was to visit the city on six occasions, spending more than two years there between 1826 and 1839.

The Birds of America was published in parts between 1827 and 1838, its four volumes containing 435 hand-coloured plates showing more than 1000 different bird species. In 1831, Audubon returned to the US and travelled around the country drawing animals in order to produce another book the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845-54), completed by his sons after his death. His books are regarded as one of the great American intellectual achievements.

Audubon died in New York.

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