This touring exhibition is a unique opportunity to display a selection of National Museums Scotland’s collection of prints from Audubon’s remarkable masterpiece, the Birds of America.
John James Audubon (1785–1851) is an American icon and legendary naturalist. His paintings of the natural world are some of the most famous and recognisable in the history of art and natural sciences. His unique illustrations for the Birds of America make it one of the most spectacular rare books in the world.
The Birds of America contains stunning hand-coloured and life-size prints of birds from North America, presented on double elephant folio paper. They were published over an 11 year period (1827–38) with the first ten plates engraved in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The exhibition will also include material connected to Audubon to tell the story of how the Birds of America project was realised, putting it into context with his predecessors and contemporaries. Throughout his career Audubon attracted controversies which follow him to this day. Examining these, and uncovering the man behind the ‘myth’ will be a key narrative throughout the exhibition. It will also consider the birds he studied and his influence on wildlife art and conservation.
This exhibition will illustrate the following themes:
• Meet the Birds of America
Introducing Birds of America and Audubon himself through immersion in the beauty of the imagery.
• The Ornithologists’ Art
Explore the artistic and scientific context of the time (early 19th Century), the publics understanding of and relationship with nature , and Audubon’s predecessors and contemporaries in the art of drawing birds.
• Audubon and Scotland
Edinburgh’s role in the realisation of Birds of America and his interaction with scientific communities in the USA and UK.
• The Great Work – Audubon’s Birds of America
Exploring the the project in depth, with a bound copy as the centrepiece.
• Audubon the Naturalist
The immense legacy of the Birds of America project and Audubon’s work to the present day, focusing on taxonomy and the public’s changed perception of birds and their habitats.
• Birds of the World
The threat to bird populations around the world today
A call to action – what can visitors to do help