John James Audubon by Calkin
 
 
 
 
 

Lance Calkin (1859-1936)
John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Provenance
Exhibition and publication details
References and further reading

Lance Calkin (1859-1936)

George Lance Calkin was born in London on June 22 1859, the second of seven children. He was the son of George Calkin, a musician and composer, and Emily. Lance Calkin married Alice Annie O’Brien, the marriage being registered in Camberwell in 1891. They had three daughters.

Calkin was privately educated and attended the Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal Academy schools. His principal works were portraits of King Edward VII, King George V, Marquis of Camden and Joseph Chamberlain. His work is signed “Lance Calkin”. In 1895 he became a ROI – member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Oil Colours.



John James Audubon (1785-1851)

Jean Jacques Laforest Audubon was born in Santo Domingo, present day Haiti on April 26 1785. The illegitimate son of a French sea captain and a servant girl he was taken to France at the age of three. In 1803 he was sent to Pennsylvania to manage his father’s farm in order to avoid conscription into the French army. Here he anglicized his name to John James. Audubon was not well suited to managing a farm. Instead he devoted his time to developing his skills in illustrating birds. He devised a framework of flexible wire that he called a “position board” in order to support freshly shot birds whilst he drew them. He used mixed media of pencil, pastel, watercolour and gouache.

Possibly inspired by Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) who published American Ornithology (1808-1814), Audubon undertook his own venture to publish his collection of life-size bird drawings. Travelling by boat to New Orleans he collected and drew birds whilst his young companion, Joseph Mason incorporated floral compositions in the illustrations. As with future assistants, Mason was not officially acknowledged by Audubon.

Audubon’s bid to find an American publisher was unsuccessful. Given his ambition to publish large double-elephant size prints he was advised to visit England to find an engraver competent to undertake such a project. He arrived in Liverpool in July 1826. Before long, Audubon was convinced to sell his book to customers by subscription in England, Europe and America. This required participation in an on-going series of exhibitions and social invitations, which were financed in part by the sale of oil paintings of some of the bird illustrations.

W. H. Lizars of Edinburgh was initially tasked with producing a Prospectus for the work that first appeared in March 1827 and was reprinted numerous times. However by September, Robert Havell, father and son, in London were employed to produce the now famous work The Birds of America. The relationship between Audubon and the Havells was not without its stresses as Audubon was very exacting in his demands for precision and quality. Nevertheless production of the book continued. Audubon made numerous journeys back and forth to America in order to acquire additional material for the illustration of future volumes and solicit subscriptions.

Ornithological biography was produced as a companion text volume to The Birds of America first appearing in 1831. The book of text included a description of the birds and anecdotes of Audubon’s adventures. It was written with the assistance of William MacGillivray (1796-1852).

It was not until June 1838 that the last plate of The Birds of America was engraved. In all, only about 175 sets were printed, much less than the anticipated 500 sets. Audubon did not achieve financial security with the completion of these huge books. That was achieved instead by producing a smaller edition of the book between 1840 and 1844. The initial print run of 300 copies was increased to 1,000.

Audubon died in 1851. His family attempted unsuccessfully to generate more revenue from his lifelong work but without success. His watercolours were sold to the New York Historical Society and the remaining copper plates sold for scrap. Less than 80 plates were rescued for restoration and now reside in a number of American museums and universities.

Audubon’s fame rests on his life-size illustrations of the birds set within landscaped backgrounds and from the sheer size of this amazing book.



Provenance

Presented by Mr R. W. Oates in 1939.



Exhibition and publication details

Audubon, J. J. (1827) Birds of America : from drawings made during a residence of upwards of twenty-five years in the United States and its territories… Prospectus to Birds of America. Lizars: Edinburgh.

Audubon, J. J. (1827-1838) The Birds of America from original drawings. 4 vols. London.

Audubon, J. J (1831-1839) Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the Birds of the United States of America: accompanied by descriptions of the objects represented in the work entitled The Birds of America. 5 vols. Edinburgh.

Thackray, J. C. A. (1995) A catalogue of portraits, paintings and sculpture at the Natural History Museum London. Mansell: London. 70pp.



References and further reading

Booth, J. (1983) Looking at Old Prints. Cambridge House Books: Westbury, Wiltshire, England. 202pp.

Gillispie, C. C. (ed.) (1970) Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Volume I. Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York.

Herrick, F. H. (1938) Audubon the Naturalist. D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc.: New York. 2 v.

Lance Calkin