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Audubon’s Birds of America

Audubon’s Birds of America Claimed

Birds of America

Exhibition Overview

Audubon’s Birds of America

Exhibition Type
Art, History, Nature
Area Size
500 to 1000 sqm
Designed For
Museums and Galleries
Hiring Fee

For a 3-month rental excl. transport, installation, insurance:

This hiring fee is set for the following exhibition format:
See all available package options
Core Experience
Original collection
Exhibition Partners
Curated by National Museums Scotland


Credits / Image Information

© Andy Catlin
© National Museums Scotland



This touring exhibition presents an exciting opportunity to display a beautiful selection of 46 plates from one of the world’s most famous and valuable rare books, Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785–1851). 


Birds of America is a landmark work of ornithological illustration which took almost 12 years to complete. Today only 120 copies are known to exist and they are rarely on display. The plates featured in this exhibition, each measuring almost one metre (39 inches) in height, are drawn from the National Museums Scotland library collection. The majority have never been on show to the public and have undergone years of conservation treatment in preparation for their inaugural display and tour.  


This exhibition is a new interpretation of the making and significance of this incredible body of work and the story is complemented by letters, taxidermy, manuscripts, photography and films. It explores the book’s historical context and considers why Audubon’s artistic style was so ground-breaking. Lastly, it questions how this book came to influence natural sciences today and what we can learn from its legacy.  


The exhibition addresses some of the complexities and controversies surrounding the book’s creator, John James Audubon. In addition, it shows how the intelligentsia in Edinburgh, Scotland influenced the book’s formation and led to its publication following Audubon’s rejection by the scientific community in Philadelphia, USA.  


An important conservation thread runs throughout the exhibition and is highlighted at the end, raising awareness of our impact on nature and how bird populations have changed since the 19th century. Visitors should be left feeling motivated and inspired to protect the natural world. 

A Journey Through the Exhibition  

  • Meet the Birds of America  

Introducing the world’s most expensive book and its artist John James Audubon. This section will immerse visitors in the sensory beauty of the Birds of America illustrations through an emotive projected film.  


  • Fascination for Nature

Placing Birds of America in its artistic and scientific context, examining the work of other bird illustrators and their influence on Audubon, and exploring why his work was so ground-breaking in comparison.  


  • Birds of America takes flight

Find out why Audubon was rejected by the American scientific community and follow his journey across the Atlantic to England and Scotland, where he was finally able to begin publishing Birds of America.


  • The Great Work 

Discover the technical skill, artistic audacity and expert team it took to realise Audubon’s vision for his ‘Great Work’.


  • Scientist of charlatan?

Learn about the critical reception to Audubon’s work and explore his importance in identifying and naming new species as well as the controversies around his science, some of which are still debated today. 


  • A fragile beauty

Find out how some of the birds that Audubon depicted are faring today, underlining why the beauty and fragility of nature – as reflected in Audubon’s ‘Great Work’ – is our responsibility to protect.  

VR and App Content


Paintings Drawings & Prints
Manuscripts Books & Maps
Digital art

General Information

Created In
Available Package Options
Collection and interpretation
Technical Requirements
High security
High conservation


Past and Future Venues
National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, 12 February to 8 May 2022
Compton Verney, 1 July to 1 October 2023

Available to hire from October 2023

Extra Info

Curatorial excellence
Star object
Treasure collection
Immersive experience
Exhibition Add-Ons
Media kit
Exhibition tour kit
Catalogue / book

Exhibition documents

Exhibition Type

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