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New-York Historical Society opens Audubon’s Aviary. The Complete Flock

Submitted by on March 7, 2013 – 4:21 pm

New-York Historical Society presents Audubon’s Aviary. The Complete Flock, an exhibition on view March 08, 2013 – May 19, 2013.

John James Audubon
John James Audubon (1785–1851), Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) and Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), Study for Havell pl. no. 76, ca. 1825. Watercolor, pastel, graphite, black ink, oil, gouache, black chalk, collage, and outlining with a stylus on paper, with selective glazing on paper, laid on card; 25 13/16 x 39 3/8 in. (65.6 x 100 cm). New-York Historical Society, Purchased for the Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863.17.76.

The three-part series will celebrate the sesquicentennial of the acquisition of its unparalleled collection of John James Audubon’s preparatory watercolors for the sumptuous double-elephant-folio print edition of The Birds of America (1827–38), engraved by Robert Havell Jr. Over three years, Audubon’s Aviary: The Complete Flock (Parts I–III) will feature all of its 474 original avian watercolors by Audubon, including all 435 watercolor models for The Birds of America, all but one acquired by New-York Historical in 1863 from the artist’s widow Lucy Bakewell Audubon. Engaging, state-of-the-art media installations will provide a deeper understanding of the connections between art and nature and Audubon’s contributions to American art and history.

Curated by Roberta J.M. Olson, Curator of Drawings at the New-York Historical Society, this extraordinary trio of landmark exhibitions will explore the evolution of Audubon’s dazzling watercolors in the order in which they were engraved. Visitors to the New-York Historical Society will have the unique opportunity to view these national treasures sequentially and in their entirety for the first time—the same way Audubon’s original subscribers received the Havell prints. Audubon organized his watercolor models and the corresponding Havell plates not by taxonomy, as was the tradition, but according to his judgments, including which watercolors he considered ready for engraving. He believed this order was more like that of nature, and it was arguably more interesting for his subscribers because they received their prints in groups of five (usually one large, one medium, and three small). Viewed in this manner, The Complete Flock series will examine the struggles and decisions the artist made in order to bring his “great work” to fruition and to successfully market it. www.nyhistory.org

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