In his magisterial Fine Bird Books, Sir Sacheverall Sitwell says of Audubon: 'There is nothing in the world of fine books quite like the discovery of Audubon. The giant energy of the man, his power of achievement and accomplishment, give him something of the epical force of a Walt Whitman or a Herman Melville...Audubon is the greatest of bird Painters; he belongs to American history.'
John James Audubon's Birds of America, from which this selection has been taken, is the finest pictorial ornithological book ever produced. Unlike the drawings and paintings of his contemporaries, which were produced from prepared skins and zoo specimens, Audubon's paintings are taken directly from his observations in the wild, and the richness and directness come straight from the real world. No wonder that Audubon became known in his lifetime as 'The American Woodsman'.
Audubon was unable to raise sufficient financial backing in the United States and he sailed for England in 1826. In its original form, Birds of America contained 435 hand-colored, aquatinted plates which were completed between 1827 and 1838. It was printed in London and bound into four double elephant folio volumes (measuring approximately 30 X 27 inches (76 X 69 cm)) so that all the birds could be illustrated life-size. Between 175 and 200 sets were produced, and the last complete set to come to auction fetched nearly $3,000,000.