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Greg Farrugia

John James Audubon

Artist Biography

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John James Audubon

John James Audubon (April 26, 1785 – January 27, 1851) was a Franco-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. He painted art, prints and posters, catalogued, and described the birds of North America. Audubon was born in Haiti, the illegitimate son of a French sea captain and his mistress, and raised in France by his stepmother. He claimed that his early education included lessons from Jacques Louis David, later famous as a painter in revolutionary France, but this claim has been long since discredited, along with numerous other Audubon “fictions.”

In 1803 his father obtained a false passport for him to travel to the United States to avoid the draft for the Napoleonic Wars. He oversaw a family farm near Philadelphia and began the study of natural history by conducting the first bird-banding on the continent. After years of business success in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, he went bankrupt. This compelled him to pursue his nature study and painting more vigorously and he sailed off down the Mississippi with his gun and paintbox and assistant, intent on finding and painting art, prints and posters of all the birds of North America.

In order to draw or paint the birds, he had to shoot them first, using fine shot to prevent them from being shot to pieces. He then used fixed wires to prop them up, restoring a natural position. His birds are set true-to-life in their natural habitat. The British couldn’t get enough of art, prints and posters of backwoods America and he was an instant success. During that time, Audubon continued making expeditions in North America and bought an estate on the Hudson river, now Audubon Park. His final art, prints and posters were on mammals, the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. It was completed by his sons. He is buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery at 155th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, New York.

John James Audubon Art, Prints and Posters Collection