Aububon took lessons from the French painter Jacques-Louis David in his youth; but only became a professional artist decades later.
Birds of America is the most expensive bird book in history. Much money was made from it during and after the life of its maker. However, Audubon himself was often in financial problems; even spending time in a debtors’ prison.
When it became clear that no publisher in the USA wanted to publish Birds of America, Audubon went on a risky journey to Britain, where he did not know anyone. There, he had the good luck that the exotic looks of his bird pictures and of his backwoodsman self appealed to fashionable European tastes. That made him famous, later also in the USA.
Audubon‘s fame solved his financial problems. However, not those of his widow Lucy after his death. She found herself forced to sell the Birds of America copper plates; only 79 of them were eventually saved from destruction as scrap metal.
Besides economic paradoxes in Audubon’s legacy, there is the contradiction between his passionate interest in birds and his shooting of birds. Later in his life, Audubon did see the danger of humans making birds extinct. The Audubon Society, founded to protect birds (originally, especially egrets killed for their feathers, used on hats) took its name from him.
In the exhibition in Haarlem, also attention was paid to the Dutch sister organisation of the Audubon Society, Vogelbescherming. There were videos playing simultaneously about belted kingfishers; golden eagles; gannets; ducks in winter; and Naardermeer nature reserve.
Teyler’s museum has the only copy in the Netherlands of the big edition of Birds of America. Every day of the exhibition, a new page of each of the five volumes is turned; so that people who will visit the exhibition every day, by the end will have seen all pages.
Also other bird books were included in the exhibition.
In the museum restaurant, as well as in the exhibition hall, there was a video about Audubon’s life.
Another, smaller, exhibition, now in the museum, is about Indians of North and South America, as depicted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Birds of America sets £7m sales record at Sotheby’s: here.