We’ve moved!
Visit the new Library of America blog at our new website: www.loa.org/news-and-views

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

John James Audubon: Evidence of his first published drawing found

For his first forty years, even while he was creating the outsize, visionary paintings that would become his self-published masterwork, Birds of America (1827), John James Audubon (1785–1851) struggled financially to support himself and his family as a drawing teacher and itinerant portrait painter. His first big potential break came in 1824 when, he noted in his diary, he received a commission to draw birds for a New Jersey bank note. (There was no national currency in those days. Independent banks printed their own currency. ) This would have been Audubon’s first published work, but no one has been able to find an example of the bank note or the illustration—until now.

After a decade-long search, Robert Peck, 57-year-old curator of art and artifacts and senior fellow at the Academy of Natural Sciences, and Eric Newman, a 99-year-old numismatic historian from St. Louis, have recently located what they believe to be the missing image among the sample sheets of a contemporary Philadelphia engraver. They recount the details of their discovery in the Fall 2010 issue of the Journal of the Early Republic (available August 31). As The Academy of Natural Sciences reports:
The bird illustration itself merits special attention. Although the heath hen drawing lacks the glorious colors and monumental scale of the images found in Birds of America, its qualities presage those that distinguish the subjects in the later masterwork. This humble grouse is depicted in an active, life-like pose rather than the stilted dispositions typical of the time. Moreover, details of its pose and placement in its habitat demonstrates the artist's first-hand and thorough knowledge of his subject.
Robert Peck suspects, however, that the bank note never made it into circulation. The bank probably found it unremarkable “especially in comparison to the majestic eagles, military heroes, and draped figures of Lady Liberty that typically adorned the paper money of the day. . . . A skittish, shy, running grouse doesn't instill great confidence in the bank,” Peck said

Listen to an NPR interview with Robert Peck about the discovery.

Image: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society

Related LOA works: John James Audubon: Writings and Drawings

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wikio - Top Blogs - Literature