Auctions | April 12, 2016

Rare Audubon Prints at Bonhams

image.jpgLOS ANGELES - Bonhams announces the sale of works by John James Audubon (1785-1851), the famed naturalist and painter from the 19th century, at Prints and Multiples on Apr. 19 in Los Angeles.

Audubon dedicated himself to studying birds and - around the year 1820 - he declared his intention to paint every bird in North America. His collection of 435 life-size detailed and meticulous hand-colored engravings of birds in their natural habitats, published as the Birds of America, took more 12 years to complete.

Sold in small sets, Birds of America is still considered one of the greatest examples of book art and among the finest ornithological works ever completed. Through the book, Audubon discovered 25 new species and 12 new subspecies; his influence in the study of birds and natural history is significant.

One of the highlights among the 33 Audubon prints in the Bonhams auction is Snowy Owl (Pl. CXXI), 1831, from the Havell edition of Birds of America. It is a hand-colored engraving with aquatint and etching on J. Whatman Turkey Mill paper, and estimated at U.S. $60,000-80,000.

Others from the Havell edition include Louisiana Heron (Pl. CCXVII), 1834, estimated at U.S. $80,000-120,000 and Great Blue Heron (Pl. CCXI), 1834, at U.S. $70,000-90,000. All three were sold at auction in 1985, before which the two Heron works belonged to the third Earl of Caledon who acquired it directly from the artist in 1842.

"The Bonhams print department is extremely excited to offer at auction such important Audubon works, many of which have provenance dating back to Audubon's original subscribers," said Director of Works on Paper Morisa Rosenberg.


Audubon started his journey to produce this book in the autumn of 1820 when he boarded a flatboat and traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Gulf Coast, in order to follow migrating birds. Although this trip was cut short, he returned to America several times on excursions throughout Canada and regions in the south to document more birds.

Audubon faced a number of hurdles while trying to finish the huge endeavor he started and, as a result, he traveled around America and England to find financial support for the project.

After a failed attempt with an engraver who finished only 10 of his plates, Audubon partnered with Robert Havell Jr. to complete the rest. Havell - an engraver and colorist in London - is known to be Audubon's most important collaborator, often finishing his compositions by combining separate drawings and adding significant details.

Audubon completed the color-plate book in 1839 and 175-200 sets of the 435 engravings were produced. He is believed to have brought a handful of sets back to America, including the set he eventually sold to the third Earl of Caledon.

View the catalog online.

Auction preview hours (open to the public): in San Francisco, Apr. 8 from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. PST; Apr. 9 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. PST; and Apr. 10 from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. PST. In Los Angeles, Apr. 16 from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. PST; Apr. 17 from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. PST; and Apr 18 from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. PST.