John James Audubon (1785-1851)

Yellow Crowned Night Heron © John James Audubon, 1860
Yellow Crowned Night Heron © John James Audubon, 1860

Son of a French sea captain, Audubon arrived in Pennsylvania at age 19 and was immediately captivated by American birds, devoting himself to long hours of observation and drawing.

His monumental accomplishment was the publication of The Birds of America, a book unlike any other ever made. It portrayed all the birds of North America, life-sized, and was so large it required custom-made, oversized paper. Audubon was involved to some degree in every aspect of the work, from creating the original watercolors and writing the accompanying text to transatlantic production and marketing. Nearly two centuries after they were created, his images remain the iconic portraits of American birds.

Mass Audubon owns many engravings and lithographs from all the editions of his work, as well as one of the rare, original copper plates for The Birds of America, and a manuscript letter.

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