Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Another View of Audubon

Ocelot by James Audubon- Springfield Art Museum
In case you always thought that Audubon was just "for the birds," there is another side of his story currently on view at the Springfield Art Museum.  The exhibit, which ends June 22, 2014, is called Hooves, Tails, and Claws: Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.  It is a great chance to see originals from the portfolio on loan from the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

John James Audubon was born in 1785 and had a successful business in Kentucky until the great market crash of 1819 wiped him out, the same event that drove Henry Rowe Schoolcraft out of New York to explore the Ozarks.  Audubon's loss became our gain as he packed up his gun and his paints and headed out to paint the birds of America.  By 1826 he delivered the first part of his folio to England where it was a great success.

By 1838, he had published the last part of his Birds of America.  He was living in New York City at the time and in 1843 he headed west one last time to paint the mammals of North America.   The result was Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, a volume with text by his friend John Bachman, a Lutheran pastor.  It became a family affair as Audubon's sons were married to Bachman's daughters and they were to carry the work to completion as Audubon slipped into senility, dying at the age of 65.

Audubon's story is incredible.  He was released from jail for bankruptcy at the age of 34 and 19 years later was a famous artist, all before heading out to paint the mammals of America.  This type of accomplishment reminds me of my personal version of Tom Lehrer's quote.  "By the time Mozart was my age, he had composed over 600 musical works including 41 symphonies and 27 piano concertos, and had been dead for 38 years."

You can see all 152 plates of the originals at this New York Public Library Digital gallery site.  Better yet, saunter on down to the Springfield Art Museum and see them personally. It is free and the hours and information are here.

Thanks to Amy Short of the Fishin' Magicians for telling me about the exhibit.

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