I’ve been lucky enough to see some of John James Audubon’s work in person and it’s truly mesmerizing.
Now, the New-York Historical Society is giving you the opportunity to see its entire 474 piece collection of Audubon’s work for the first time ever. The historical society is doing this to celebrate the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the purchase of Audubon’s famous avian watercolors from his wife, Lucy.
What makes this such a remarkable event is that the New-York Historical Society will display all of his work sequentially, so you can see the evolution of his paintings over the years. The exhibition will be broken into three chronological installations, with the first on display now through May 19.
According to Wired, most of the pieces are “so-called preparatory watercolors, the drafts Audubon made while working towards The Birds of America, the famed series of hand-colored, life-sized engravings that would make his name synonymous with the winged world.”
These are very delicate and usually kept in dim storage to prevent light from damaging the pigments. Many of these paintings, which include some of Audubon’s earliest, have either never been displayed in the United States or never been in part of a display as extensive.
Here’s a description of the first installation from the society’s website:
Audubon’s Aviary: Part I of the Complete Flock will open with a fascinating look at the self-taught Audubon’s development of his innovative signature depictions and experimental media. To elucidate this early chapter in his life, New-York Historical will supplement its own rich holdings (dating from 1808) by borrowing a selection of the artist’s rare, earliest pastels: eleven from Houghton Library of Harvard University and and fifteen from the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de la Rochelle, Collection Société des Sciences Naturelles de la Charente-Maritime, in France.
If you happen to live in New York or are planning on visiting the city, you should definitely make an effort to see Audubon’s Aviary: The Complete Flock. It’ll be something you’ll never forget.