The Majestic Realism of John James Audubon Prints

Audubon Aquatint Engraving, Roseate Spoonbill Lot 5: Audubon Aquatint Engraving, Roseate Spoonbill, estimated $100,000 via Arader Galleries (October 2017)

Both wildlife and art enthusiasts alike will appreciate the majestic realism of the animals portrayed in John James Audubon prints. In the early 19th century, Audubon began his professional career as an ornithologist for The Museum of Natural History in Cincinnati

Who Was John James Audubon?

John James Audubon (April 26 1785 – January 27, 1851) was something of a jack of all trades. Part artist, part naturalist, and part ornithologist, Audubon is well-known for his prolific work documenting and illustrating American birds. His most famous work, The Birds of America (1827-1839), still stands the test of time as one of the most complete and intricate ornithological works ever compiled.

Audubon Aquatint Engraving, Great Blue Heron, Plate 211

Lot 13: Audubon Aquatint Engraving, Great Blue Heron, Plate 211, estimated $290,000 via Arader Galleries (January 2018)

Audubon Aquatint Female Turkey

Lot 15: Audubon Aquatint Female Turkey, $80,000 via Arader Galleries (January 2019)

The Birds of America

In 1820, Audubon embarked on a tour of America’s south that would eventually spark his commitment to find and illustrate all the birds of North America on paper. After four years of work, much of which was spent traveling through the wilderness for his drawings and paintings, Audubon was unable to find a publisher for his illustrations in the U.S. 

Audubon Aquatint Virginian Partridge

Lot 18: Audubon Aquatint Virginian Partridge, Est. $80,000 via Arader Galleries (January 2019)

Audubon Aquatint, Canvas Backed Duck

Lot 15: Audubon Aquatint, Canvas Backed Duck, Est. $130,000 via Arader Galleries (September 2018)

His lack of success in the US prompted a trip to England, where his work was lauded by Englishmen who were fascinated by the exotic images of American wildlife. Because of their enthusiasm, Audubon was finally able to publish The Birds of America, which contained 435 life-size prints. 

The last print of The Birds of America was issued in 1838. Not long afterward, Audubon made one more trip out West, this time in search of mammals. This trip was the basis for his final work, Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. 

Lot 38- AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES, AND JOHN BACHMAN. The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America

Lot 38: Audubon, John James, and John Bachman, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, Est: $200,000- $300,000 via Hindman (August 2014)

Audubon Engraving, American Flamingo

Lot 14: Audubon Engraving, American Flamingo, Est. $235,000 via Arader Galleries (March 2018)

The Audubon Society

In 1896, the Massachusetts Audubon Society was founded in light of outrage over the slaughter of millions of birds and named in honor of Audubon’s work. Today, The Audubon Society is a national organization dedicated to the conservation of birds.

John James Audubon - Aquatint Long-Billed Curlew

Lot 36: Audubon Aquatint Long-Billed Curlew, Est. $85,000 via Arader Galleries (November 2019)

John James Audubon - Brown Sitting Pelican, Plate 421

Lot 20: Brown Sitting Pelican, Plate 421, Est. $90,000 via Arader Galleries (June 2015)

Audubon Prints at Auction: Tips for Collectors

To this day, Audubon is best known for The Birds of America. His depiction of birds married fine art with scientific study in a way that had never been seen before while also perfectly embodying the early 19th century American experience. Because of this, John Audubon bird prints are very popular on the auction circuit. As with collecting any print, buyers will want to keep certain things in mind when looking for John James Audubon prints for sale at auction

Lot 50 - Sotheby's - AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES

Lot 50: Audubon, John James, The Birds of America; from Original Drawings by John James Audubon, Est: £4,000,000- £6,000,000 via Sotheby’s  (Dec 2010)

Audubon Engraving, Carolina Parrot

Lot 13: Audubon Engraving, Carolina Parrot, Est. $285,000 via Arader Galleries (March 2018)

If you are in the market for first edition prints, these copper plate engravings should measure about 30 x 40 inches and were published by Havell on watermarked wove paper. Paying attention to condition is also necessary, as prints with tears or worn corners will fetch lower prices at auction. Other features that also affect the value of a print include the size of the animal depicted and the appeal of the composition. 

Birds of America is considered to be one of the most expensive books ever offered at auction. In June of 2018, Christie’s New York sold the complete four-volume Birds of America in excellent condition for $9,650,000, proving how relevant John James Audubon art prints still are today.