John James Audubon is one of the most widely acknowledged 19th-century artists and naturalists in America. He is most famous for his collection of paintings of birds, The Birds of America. Audubon was born in 1785 on the island of Santo Domingo, which is now Haiti. However, Audubon's father was a French naval captain, so to avoid service in the Napoleonic army himself, John James Audubon moved in his early teens with his family to Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. There, he began to develop his interest in birds. He observed local birds, tying colored string to the feet of several birds to prove that they returned to the
same location to nest every year. In fact, Audubon was the first to use banding to study birds.
After getting married to Lucy Bakewell in 1808, Audubon made an unsuccessful attempt to work as a storekeeper in Louisville, Kentucky. He discovered that he preferred to spend his days outdoors. In 1810, Audubon met Alexander Wilson, considered to be the father of American ornithology. Wilson's work perhaps inspired Audubon to
set out on his task of painting the North American birds. He began to create life-sized realistic portraits of birds, sometimes depicting them bending over in order to make then fit on to his paper.
Although the National Audubon Society, a national conservation association, was later given his name, in his own time Audubon was by no means known for the conservation of birds. In fact, a pioneer in using fresh models for his
drawings, Audubon sometimes killed a dozen birds before finding one suitable for him to paint.
After practically twenty years of painstakingly meticulous painting, Audubon completed Birds of America. It is remembered as an ornithological triumph.
Audubon later worked on a book of North American mammals with his sons, but his health prevented him from completing the work. In 1851, John Audubon died, leaving fascinating works of art showing in great detail the
natural world of the time.
A collection of Audubon's works
The Audubon Society's biography of Audubon