John James Audubon
Romantic and flamboyant, talented and intelligent, John James Audubon left an indelible
mark on the history of American ornithology. His magnificent Birds of America
(1827-1838) presented 435 plates of life size birds, engraved on copper and hand-colored.
For the first time, a bird artist worked from fresh-killed specimens collected in the
field and then conveyed the essence of life in his portraits. Audubon placed his colorful
birds in spectacular, but correct, natural settings.
Audubon's controversial personality and mysterious origins gave rise to many
conflicting stories about his life and work. All of these fade to insignificance before
the sheer splendor of his accomplishments.
Cornell University Library is fortunate to have one of the surviving complete sets of
the four-volume "double-elephant" folio of The Birds of America. This
set is particularly interesting, for it is one of fifteen copies commissioned by Audubon
to be bound in London according to his own specifications.