n the Ornithology Department of the American Museum of Natural History, there is one room which is only open by special arrangement. It is called the Audubon Hall. Among the display of Audubon's watercolours, prints, drawings, guns and buckskins, nothing is more treasured than the artist's copperplates that hang on the walls.
To mark Audubon's bicentennial, the Museum decided to issue a new edition of six prints struck from these original double-elephant sized plates, last used in the early 19th century. The six prints in the new edition are:
|The Wild Turkey, Male|| |
|The Female Turkey and Young|| |
|The Snowy Owl|| |
|The Mallard Duck|| |
|The Canada Goose|| |
|The Great White Heron|| |
(Note: Enlargement of each illustration can be achieved by clicking the illustration displayed.)
Intent on publishing the definitive edition that had eluded Audubon himself, the museum began looking for a firm which had retained the old 19th century skills of copperplate printing and colouring. After a long search a firm was selected, Alecto Historical Editions of London. The Museum's choice has proved the right one.
Alecto Historical Editions has an unrivalled reputation in this field, not only with this portfolio but also with Bank's Florilegium, the first edition of the plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks of Captain Cook's first circumnavigation, and now with a new edition from the original plates of Bodmer's America.
What may surprise many who appreciate Audubon's work is that the artist, although delighted with the superb quality of the original engravings, was terribly disappointed with the colouring of many of the prints. Indeed in one of Audubon's letters, he writes to his printer Robert Havell: "These recent proofs are no more like my drawings than a chimney sweep is to your beautiful wife"
The Museum and Alecto therefore went back to Audubon's original watercolours, notes, letters and even bird specimens to produce this edition. The results have not only surpassed expectations but have also met with outstanding recognition among curators, art historians and Audubon experts.
Because of the extremely high value of the original plates and the possibility of stress to them, the museum has limited the edition to just 125 sets world-wide. The plates are now retired for the next half century.
The edition is all but sold out, the majority of the sets going to important collections in North America including the Library of Congress, the Boston Public Library, the McIlhenny Collection and the National Library of Canada.