John James Audubon's paintings exhibit a natural balance between space and form. His graceful and masterly designed compositions are clearly the work of a great artist. Hailed in his lifetime for his artistic achievement, his status as an artist has continued to increase, and his work remains unchallenged as the superlative example of its genre.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish engraver W. H. Lizars began to produce the very first plates for Birds of America. However, after the completion of only ten plates, Lizars' colorists went on strike, and Audubon was forced to continue pursuit of an engraver.

Audubon's dream finally found fruition with Robert Havell, a renowned London engraver. The portfolio of Birds of America, of 435 hand-colored engravings, took twelve years, from 1826 to 1838, to complete. Havell also retouched Lizar's original efforts, adding aquatint to the engraving, and on those tem plates the Havell name appears alongside that of the Scottish engraver's.

Audubon sold 175 subscriptions to Birds of America, each of which commanded the princely sum of $1,000-the cost of a substantial home at the time. The edition was published on sheets measuring 26 inches by 39 inches, called double elephant by the printing trade. The resulting engravings, depicting each subject in its actual size, are among the largest ever made. Still, Audubon often altered the larger bird's natural postures, creatively composing the figure to fit within the dimensions of the sheet.

A maximum of 200 complete sets of Birds of America were made. Of these, more than 100 are intact in library and museums collections worlwide. In the more than 150 years since they were first printed by Havell, few of the sets have been broken or made available for sale.


Information provided by:

Kenyon Oppenheimer. Inc. Chicago, Illinois
who specializes in these rare, original engravings, maintaining an extensive inventory, many in exceptionally fine condition and who is restoring the Lake Forest Library Audubons, funding provided by private donations and the Friends of Lake Forest Library.