Audubon’s Aviary: Parts Unknown (Part II of The Complete Flock)
Audubon’s Aviary: The Complete Flock reveals why history has acclaimed Audubon an American icon and deemed the New-York Historical Society’s watercolors a national treasure. Considered America’s first great watercolorist, the legendary naturalist-artist rendered his birds in an unparalleled life-size scale. His years drawing portraits to support his family, coupled with his passion for drawing birds, enabled him to capture the individuality of each species in inventive tableaux. Since every avian watercolor is based on a lifetime of observation and study, they characterize the essence of each bird in arresting, often cinematic, images that soar beyond illustration to magically capture the fragile, often brutal and endangered balance of nature. With Audubon’s peripatetic existence, the survival of this trove in such pristine condition is miraculous.
Featuring new findings about the artist’s working methods and his ornithological and artistic influences, the second part of Audubon’s Aviary continues to illuminate his true genius. Enriching these offerings will be a range of objects drawn from the Society’s rich Audubon collection, the largest single repository of Auduboniana in the world. The exhibition is accompanied by the lavish book Audubon’s Aviary: The Original Watercolors for “The Birds of America” (published by New-York Historical Society and Skira/Rizzoli), which sheds new light on the artist. It has garnered many awards, among them: Outstanding Permanent Collection Catalogue Prize of 2013 (by the Association of Art Museum Curators) and the 2013 Henry Allen Moe Prize for Catalog of Distinction in the Arts. This once-in-a lifetime trilogy explores Audubon’s dazzling watercolors in the order in which they were engraved, affording visitors the unique opportunity to view them sequentially, like his original subscribers, and in their entirety. Audubon organized The Birds of America not by traditional taxonomic order, but according to his aesthetic and practical judgments. He believed this manner of presentation was closer to Nature’s own. Calls and songs of each species provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, together with video footage, will demonstrate the importance of birdsong for species identification and underscore Audubon’s extensive field observations that animated his great work, The Birds of America.