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John James Audubon Gallery     Prints.     Full biography.
John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Audubon was born in Haiti, the illegitimate son of a French sea captain and his mistress, and raised in France by his stepmother. In 1803 his father obtained a false passport for for him to travel to the United States to avoid the draft for the Napoleonic Wars. He sailed down the Mississippi intent on finding and painting all the birds of North America. In order to draw or paint the birds, he had to shoot them. Between 1827 and 1839 he published Birds of America, a book of bird paintings and, with William MacGillivray, Ornithological Biographies. His final work was on mammals, the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. He is buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery at 155th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, New York.
Sea Eagle
Farmyard Fowls
Fox and Goose
Bald Eagle
Osprey and the Otter


Fox and Goose, c. 1835
Oil on canvas, 21 1/2 X 33" (54.61 x 83.82 cm.)

Fox and Goose was painted in England, where collectors increasingly urged John James Audubon to convert his ornithological drawings into the more lush medium of oil. This life and death drama set in the American backwoods reveals an artist who was at once a diligent natural scientist and a wilderness poet.

By the time Fox and Goose was painted, Audubon's art radiated with vigor and confidence. He may or may not have witnessed this mammal-bird struggle. He rarely rendered or wrote about the North American Fox, although he must have known it was a major menace to nesting birds. Canada Geese, on the other hand, were among Audubon's special interests. He spent long periods studying their migratory and breeding habits; he watched them in the wild, trapped them, and tried occasionally to raise them like barnyard fowl.

At times he shot them out of the sky or purchased them to set up in his studio as a nature morte. Fox and Goose is a drama made taut by the extreme close-up vantage point which places the spectator on eye level with the combatants in a tightly-wedged space. Audubon's Oriental-like design with its alternating cadences of light and dark notes and its crisply drawn, decisive forms hovering against a sparse, abstract setting, exercises a spell on the viewer not unlike that of Winslow Homer's powerfully designed landscapes of the 1890s.

Audubon laminates a Neo-Classical regard for the rational and empirical to his Romanticist love of instinct and the exotic. His meticulous natural history renderings cross the threshold into visual theater. His legacy is an imaginative art linked to that of the nature poets of his era such as Frederic E. Church and Martin Johnson Heade.
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