John James Audubon

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Dubbed both the lover and observer of birds and nature, the French born American artist John James Audubon’s works provide an individual with a firsthand account of diving into the natural world. Apart from being an artist, Audubon was also an ornithologist and a naturalist who made a name for himself studying and sketching North American birds. Audubon excelled at wildlife illustration, carving a wild and grand legacy for his work which can now be seen thanks to the presence of digital libraries worldwide. His personal journey as an artist is nothing short of triumph over adversity, and his series Birds of America is a remarkable accomplished destined for the ages where Audubon identified more than 25 new species of birds.

Born as Jean Jacques Audubon in 1785 in the French colony of Haiti to a French naval officer and his mistress, Audubon’s mother soon lost her life to a tropical disease. His father soon shipped off Jean and another illegitimate child to France following the civil unrest at his plantation. In France Jean was raised by the naval officers wife and soon the couple adopted him legally as their own. Due to his father’s business minded nature, the family immigrated to America in 1803 for his father’s pursuit of certain business ventures. The move to America instigated Audubon’s love for nature as he soon began spending a lot of time outdoors and started taking art lessons from a teacher. His youthful wanderings into Mother Nature developed a strange kinship with birds of all things and soon he started sketching them on anything he could get his hands on. His focus soon shifted to the birds’ behaviour which he started observing keenly and noting down in his diary.  A marriage resulted in a move into another state in America and Audubon eventually ended up setting up a small store which unfortunately didn’t do very well. Audubon also lost two children of his in infancy; this coupled with various business failures ended being major setbacks for Audubon eventually landing him in jail for unpaid debts. Due to the failure of his business ventures, Audubon ultimately decided to pursue his interest in nature on a full term basis. Occasionally Audubon used to paint a few pictures of the birds he studied and sold them on the streets to make ends meet for his family. These drawing and sketches started gaining a life of their own as they matched the real beauty of the birds; there was a unique naturalness to Audubon’s works which was beautifully life-like.

John James Audubon decided to get his work published, the famous Birds of America but was unable to find a publisher in America. Despite the odds against him he traveled all the way to England and managed to find success there. The success of Birds of America gave Audubon instant fame and following the publication of the book Audubon gained a reputation for being a leading naturalist of his country. Many were fascinated with the way Audubon had managed to capture the wild beauty of the birds in their natural habitat with no formal scientific training. He became known as the ‘American woodsman’ due to his marvelous work and uncanny ability to stay deep into the woods for as long as it took him to study birds.

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