Feature Articles

April Issue 2000

Original Audubon Works on View at Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC

The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC, opened the exhibit, John James Audubon in Charleston: The Watercolors for The Birds of America organized by the New-York Historical Society from its permanent collection. The exhibit will be on view through June 11. Support for this exhibit has been provided by Fidelity Investments through the Fidelity Foundation.

This exhibition features 45 original works, the majority of which were painted in Charleston, showing Audubon's talent in combining both art and science. Audubon had a great understanding of birds' habits and environments, and through his detailed study, he developed significant artistic talent. These original works illustrate Audubon's mastery of brilliant color, detail, and life-like movement. Audubon is known for his innovative style of combining a range of different techniques and mediums. All of the works displayed have been used to make many of the popular prints that so many enjoy in their homes today.

John James Audubon was born in Santa Domingo (now Haiti) to a French naval officer and his Creole mistress. Largely self-taught as an artist and a scientist, Audubon traveled up and down the Ohio and Mississippi River basins and as far south as the Florida Keys studying birds and producing watercolors in preparation for The Birds of America.

"Audubon has been hailed as a 19th century Romantic figure, creator of his own myth, an artist-naturalist, an artist-explorer, an artist-publisher, an entrepreneur, a writer, and an environmentalist. Yet what ultimately survives are the complex techniques, intense studies and beautiful watercolors that make Audubon one of America's most creative and innovative artists," writes Holly Hotchner, Director of the Museum of The New-York Historical Society.

John James Audubon (1785 - 1851) was born in Santo Domingo (now known as Haiti) as the illegitimate son of a Frenchman and his mistress. He was raised in France during the French Revolution. In 1803, when Napoleon was seeking conscripts for his army, 18-year-old Audubon fled with his father to the safety of the United States. There, his life became vigorously active and filled with romance and excitement, and he eventually took a wife named Lucy.

As Audubon fell in love with the landscapes and creatures of the New World, he became utterly consumed by a desire to find and paint every bird in North America. From 1819 to 1839 he attempted to catalog each species and paint watercolors of what he saw. These notes and paintings, represented in the famous "John James Audubon. The Watercolors for The Birds of America", chart the naturalist's progress as an artist and also his increasing understanding of ornithology. The bird prints represent the creative spirit of our American heritage and a commitment to wildlife and the natural environment.

Audubon is universally recognized as one of America's greatest treasures, both historically and artistically. For more information on his life and work, refer to Audubon: Life and Art in the American Wilderness by Shirley Streshinsky, copyright October 1993 by Villard Books and ISBN # 0-679-40859-2.

For further information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings or call the museum at 843/722-2706 or check them out on the web at (http://www.gibbes.com).

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