NEW ORLEANS — In 1858, seven years after the French-born American ornithologist, naturalist, and artist John James Audubon (1785-1851) died, his younger son, John Woodhouse Audubon (1812-1862), initiated an ambitious project to reissue his father’s seminal work: The Birds of America (1827-1838), in an effort to solve his family’s mounting financial problems.
The publication was conceived as a complete reissue of the original 435 images, but instead of the original 87, it was to include 44 separate parts, with each part consisting of 7 sheets and 10 images. Four sheets in each part would contain one large or medium sized image, and three sheets would contain two smaller images. Like the original, this publication would be sold by subscription in 44 installments.
With the advances in color printing at the time, it was decided that the plates would be produced using the very latest techniques in chromolithography. Audubon recruited the Roe Lockwood Company in New York City to publish the works and Julius Bien (American/New York, 1826-1909) to produce the chromolithographic version of the famous double-elephant folio.
Unlike the original Havell prints, which were produced directly from copper engraving plates, Julius Bien utilized the original plates by adding a special transfer ink to print each plate onto dampened paper. The ensuing image was then transferred to a lithographic stone, which, in conjunction with a flatbed scraper, transferred the black-and-white images to the final paper.
To add color, the stone was re-inked and the image was run through the press again, one color at a time.
Unfortunately, the start of the Civil War in 1860 brought an abrupt end to the Audubon-Bien project. The collapse of the project resulted in financial ruin for the Audubon family, and probably hastened John Woodhouse’s death in 1862. Only 105 plates (or 15 parts) were completed and only an estimated 75-100 copies were ever produced. Today, given the substantial value of each of the individual prints, a bound volume is considered very rare.
In their forthcoming Louisiana Purchase Auction™, scheduled for Nov. 21-22, 2009, Neal Auction Company will offer an almost complete Bien Edition volume of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, which includes 14 of the 15 parts and 140 of 150 images. It has been posited that the lacking final part of Neal Auction Company’s version may be attributed to the commencement of the Civil War, when Southern subscribers were cut off from New York shipments.
Company Bien edition is considered one of the finest examples of large-scale chromolithographic art of the mid-19th century and is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000 at auction this month.
In addition to many Havell edition elephant folios from the Birds of America, Neal Auction will also be offering a rare John James Audubon watercolor depicting “The Stanley Hawk,” which is estimated to bring $70,000 to $100,000.
For more information on Neal Auction’s Louisiana Purchase™ sale, call 504-899-5329 or visit www.nealauction.com.
Photos courtesy Neal Auction Company.
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