- Audubon , John James
- (1785–1851) American ornithologist and naturalistThe illegitimate son of a French sea captain and his Creole mistress, Audubon was born in Les Cayes on the Caribbean island of Haiti and was brought up in Nantes in his father's family. He studied painting in Paris, spending six months in the studio of Jacques Louis David. In 1803, to escape conscription into Napoleon's army, Audubon was sent to Pennsylvania where his father owned a farm. Neither the farm nor any of Audubon's other business interests flourished and he was declared bankrupt in 1819 and imprisoned.No doubt one cause of Audubon's commercial failure was the time spent hunting and observing birds and other animals in the wild. The first hint that his skills as an artist and naturalist could be combined to make money came in 1810 when Alexander Wilson passed through Louisville, Louisiana, where Audubon was operating a general store. Wilson was looking for subscribers to his lavishly illustrated American Ornithology (9 vols; 1808–14).By 1820 Audubon had decided to publish his own collection of animals and birds. He spent a further four years traveling through Louisiana and Mississippi shooting specimens. As no American publisher appeared to be interested in his work, Audubon took his paintings to Britain in 1826. He eventually found a printer in Edinburgh willing to work on his ‘double elephant size’ engravings (39'' × 29''). Sets of five plates were sold to subscribers for 2 guineas to finance the next set. In this way 200 full sets of Birds of America (1827–38) were published in Britain in 87 parts with 435 plates. Full sets are rarely available for sale – when auctioned they are unlikely to raise less than a million dollars.Audubon returned to America in 1839, where he bought an estate on the Hudson and began to prepare his Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (3 vols; 1845–48).
Scientists. Academic. 2011.