An original hand-colored aquatint engraving on double-elephant folio, J. Whatman wove paper by American artist John James Audubon (1785-1851) titled "Snow Bunting", 1834. Engraved, printed, and hand-colored by English artist Robert Havell Jr. (1793-1878), in 1834. Plate CLXXXIX; part No. 38. Comes from Audubon's famous book "The Birds of America", Havell Edition (1827-1838), which consists of 435 hand-colored, life-size prints, made from engraved plates, with each sheet originally measuring around 39" x 26". There were 176 recorded subscribers to the 'Birds of America' series and it is known that a handful of extra Audubon books were produced as well. Of the approximate amount of 180 ever produced, roughly 100 have never been broken and remain in permanent public museum and institution collections. In light of that, only roughly 80 possibly exist on the open market in private hands today. Our example offered here - the sheet has been trimmed, but still fortunately retains part of its J. Whatman watermark upper left which is very important. Recently framed in a South American Rosewood moulding, 100% cotton fabric rag matting, and wooden filet. All archival. Framed size: 33" x 24". Sheet size: 26" x 18". Image size: 17" x 11.25". Some light toning in margins associated with age. In otherwise very good condition with strong color. Very rare.
"Havell Edition, Birds of America" - In Edinburgh, the Scottish engraver W. H. Lizars began to produce the very first plates for Birds of America. However, after the completion of only ten plates, Lizars' colorists went on strike, and Audubon was forced to continue his pursuit of an engraver. Audubon's dream finally found fruition with Robert Havell, a renowned London engraver. The portfolio of Birds of America, comprised of 435 hand-colored engravings, took twelve years, from 1826 to 1838, to complete. Havell also retouched Lizars' original efforts, adding aquatint to the engraving, and on those ten plates the Havell name appears alongside that of the Scottish engraver's.
John James Audubon (April 26, 1785, Les Cayes, Saint-Domingue (later Haiti) – January 27, 1851 (aged 65) Manhattan, New York, U.S.), born Jean-Jacques Audubon, was an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. He was notable for his expansive studies to document all types of American birds and for his detailed illustrations that depicted the birds in their natural habitats. His major work, a color-plate book entitled The Birds of America (1827–1839), is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. Audubon identified 25 new species.
Robert Havell Jr. (25 November 1793 – 11 November 1878) was the principal engraver of Audubon's Birds of America, perhaps the most significant natural history publication of all time. His aquatint engraving of all but the first ten plates of John James Audubon's Birds of America is now recognized as a significant artistic achievement in its own right and an essential component of the success of Birds of America. He and Audubon became close friends and associates during their lengthy collaboration. In 1839 Havell went to America at the invitation of Audubon, first residing in Brooklyn. He settled in Ossining on the Hudson River and later moved to Tarrytown, New York, living there from 1857 through his remaining years. Although Havell continued to work in aquatint and engraving (primarily city panoramas), he devoted most of his attention to painting the countryside of the Hudson River valley. He traveled frequently in a homemade horse-drawn trailer, sketching and taking notes and translating his sketches into larger oils. Robert Havell Jr. is considered a member of the Hudson River School of American painters. He died in 1878 and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown.
As soon as the cold blasts of winter have stiffened the earth's surface, and brought with them the first snow-clouds, millions of these birds, driven before the pitiless storm, make their way towards milder climes. Their wings seem scarcely able to support their exhausted, nay almost congealed bodies, which seem little larger than the great feathery flakes of the substance from which these delicate creatures have borrowed their name. In compressed squadrons they are seen anxiously engaged in attempting to overcome the difficulties which beset them amid their perilous adventures. They now glide low over the earth, relax the closeness of their phalanx, and with amazing swiftness sweep over the country in search of that food, without which they must all shortly perish. Disappointed in their endeavours, the travellers again ascend, close their files, and continue their journey. At last, when nearly exhausted by fatigue and hunger, some leader espies the wished-for land, not yet buried in snow. Joyful notes are heard from the famished voyagers, while with relaxed flight, and wings and tail expanded, they float as it were in broad circles, towards the spot where they are to find relief. They alight, disperse, run nimbly in masses from the foot of one corn stalk to the next, scratch the ground here, pick up a dormant insect there, or nibble the small seeds of the withered grass, mixing them with a portion of gravel. Now two meet, and contend for the scanty morsel; the weaker gives way, for hunger, it seems, acts on birds as on other beings, rendering them selfish and unfeeling.
The Snow Buntings enter the eastern portions of the Union sometimes early in November, and remain in such parts as suit them best until the month of March. They now and then alight on trees, frequently on fences, and sometimes on the roofs of low buildings, in such compact bodies or continued lines, as to render it easy for the sportsman who may be inclined to shoot them, to procure a great number at once.
This species, while in the United States, never enters the woods, but prefers either the barreny portions of our elevated table-lands, or the vicinity of the sea, lakes, or rivers, where much loose sand, intermixed with small clumps of bushes and grasses, is to be found. To such places I have thought that the Snow Buntings endeavour to return each successive winter, unless compelled by the weather to proceed still farther south. I have seen them on the borders of Lake Erie, and on some of the barrens of Kentucky, for several successive seasons in the same neighbourhood. At Louisville I saw a flock each winter, on a piece of open ground between that city and the village of Shippingport, when their movements seldom extended beyond a space half a mile in diameter. It was there that one morning I caught several which were covered with hoarfrost, and so benumbed, that they were unable to fly. At that season, they kept company with the Shore-larks, the Lark-finches, and several species of Sparrow. They frequently alighted on trees, particularly the sweet gum, of which they eat the seeds.
The flight of this bird has a considerable resemblance to that of the Shore-lark, being rapid, elevated, and greatly protracted. It glides, as it were, through the air, in long and easy undulations, repeating a soft whistling call-note at each of these curves. While on the ground they run nimbly, and if wounded make off with great celerity, hiding in the grass, where it is difficult to find them, as they lie close and silent until danger is over.
When they first arrive, they are usually gentle and easily approached; but as their flesh is savoury, and their appearance attractive, they are shot in immense numbers, so that they soon become shy and wary. During moderate weather, they become more careless, appear to stray farther from each other, and if by the middle of the day the sun shines out warm, the male birds sing a few plaintive but soft and agreeable notes.
Only a single nest of this bird has been found within the limits of the United States. It was seen by WRIGHT BOOTT, Esq. of Boston, on a declivity of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, in the month of July 1831. That gentleman described it to me as being fixed on the ground amid low bushes, and formed like that of the Song Sparrow. It contained young ones.
Whilst with us, these birds are found in all varieties of plumage, excepting the pure white and black, which form their summer dress. I have not seen any having these colours, even among those procured late in March, when they usually leave the United States. In Labrador and Newfoundland, they are known by the name of the "White-bird." Their food there consists of grass seeds, insects of various kinds, and minute testaceous mollusea. They not unfrequently alight on the wild oats growing on the borders of lakes and ponds, to feed on its seeds, and with all these substances they mix a proportion of fine sand or gravel.