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Long-billed Curlew (plate CCXXXI) - John James Audubon (1785-1851) - 1834. 
London: Robert Havell, 1834 - Plate legend: Long-billed Curlew. Numenius Longirostris. 1 Male 2 Female City of Charleston Robert Havell. London, 1834 37 ½ x 24 ¾ inches sheet, 49 ½ x 37 inches framed. First edition aquatint engraving with original hand color, annotated with title and description on bottom margin, numbered on top right corner (excellent condition). Guidance: Guernseys, May 11, 2013 - $109,800 Christies, June 25, 2004- $89,625 This work is a first edition elephant folio engraving from Audubons awe-inspiring series Birds of America, the single most important visual study of North American ornithology ever produced. It features a life-size portrait of North Americas largest shorebird, the long-billed curlew, whose distinguishing feature is its exceptionally elongated bill, which rivals that of the Far Eastern curlew as the the longest bill of any shorebird. The present composition shows two adult curlews (one male, one female) feeding near a shore with tall grass. We look up at their striking poses from a "worms-eye view," which heightens our sense of their impressive stature (Olson, 280). The birds oblong heads, slender necks, soft and patterned plumage, scaled legs, and powerful gaze are all rendered with remarkable precision and detail (Audubon, 35). Across the water is a cityscape painted by the talented naturalist George Lehman, which provides a charming view of early 19th century Charleston. Visible on the left is the historic Castle Pinckney, a fort garrisoned during numerous military conflicts, including the War of 1812 and the Civil War (Sanders and Ripley, 73). Audubon encountered the curlews in November 1831 while on a trip with friends at Cole's Island, about twenty miles outside of Charleston, South Carolina (Audubon, 36). It was here that he found the birds used as models for the present composition (Low, 133). In his study of these and other birds, Audubons work was considerably enriched by his friend and collaborator Reverend John Bachman. A Lutheran minister and avid scholar of natural life, Bachman contributed a wealth of knowledge to Audubons ornithological investigations, including discovering the now likely extinct Bachmans Warbler, which Audubon named in his honor (Sanders and Ripley, 38). The South Carolina native also provided lodging to Audubon and his two assistants in his Charleston home during a crucial period of artistic production. In fact, it was in Bachmans study on the ground floor of the house that Audubon painted many of the original watercolors for The Birds of America (Sanders and Ripley, 37). Of his time with Bachman in Charleston, Audubon wrote in 1831: "the extraordinary hospitality which awaited us there.led to.a few of the happiest weeks I ever passed" (Sanders and Ripley, 33). It is arguable that Audubon would not have achieved his towering reputation as the preeminent North American natural history artist had it not been for his collaborator Bachmans scholarly devotion to scientific truth. As Sanders and Ripley note: "Bachmans concern for accuracy kept the sometimes-hasty Audubon out of hot water on several occasions" (Sanders and Ripley, 38). With respect to the present work, it was Bachman who accompanied Audubon to Coles Island to observe the curlews. Bachman also enlightened the artist about the birds breeding and nesting habits, having studied their breeding grounds first hand on the islands along the coast of South Carolina, and provided ample material for Audubons descriptions of these birds in Bird of Americas accompanying text, Ornithological Biography (Audubon, 36). References: John James Audubon, The Birds of America: From Drawings Made in the United States and their Territories Vol VI (New York, 1861); Roberta, J. M. Olson, Audubons Aviary ( New York, 2012); Albert E. Sanders and Warren Ripley, Audubon: The Charleston Connection (The Charleston Museum, 1985); Susanne M. Low, A Guide to Audubons Birds of America, (New Haven and New York, 2002). Catalogued by Xueli Wang, C [Attributes: First Edition]
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