Sunday, April 05, 2009

Book Review: "Audubon: Early Drawings"

Every artist has to start somewhere, and Harvard University Press' sumptuous new collection Audubon: Early Drawings provides a fascinating look at some of the John James Audubon drawings now in the collections of Harvard's Houghton library. These show Audubon in the learning process, as he was still developing his style of portraying birds in lifelike poses rather than in the stiff, portrait-style positions favored by his predecessors.

Houghton Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts Leslie Morris provides a foreword to the volume, introducing the collection and how the drawings came to be at Harvard. Audubon biographer Richard Rhodes contributes an essay on the artistic and stylistic influences of Audubon, and there is an essay by Scott V. Edwards, Curator of Ornithology and Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, on the scientific sources used by Audubon (including Buffon, Wilson, Pennant, Willughby and Catesby). Edwards also captions each image with a short comment on the species portrayed.

Plates 1-68 cover American species, with Plates 69-111 showing European species and the final four plates depicting exotic birds (drawn from captives or specimens) and two mammal species. The reproduction quality is excellent, with each plate given a full page in the large oblong volume.

A necessary addition to the shelves of any Audubon fan.

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