Published: March 20, 2007
Visitors to the New-York Historical Society will be able to see how legendary artist and naturalist John James Audubon reworked a bird’s portrait †honing and perfecting his depictions, sometimes for more than a decade †until the image met with his satisfaction. Forty-three vividly lifelike compositions, some of which are his most famous original watercolors, will go on display as part of the N-YHS’ five-year exhibition series. “Audubon’s Aviary: Natural Selection,” will open March 30 and run through May 20.
“Audubon’s Aviary: Natural Selection” presents watercolors of 21 different bird species †each shown two or three times †in groupings that illustrate Audubon’s artistic process. Among the most striking images are Audubon’s bloody portrayal of a male and female red-tailed hawk (e.g., Pale Male) locked in a brutal mating ritual; a macabre depiction of an ivory-billed woodpecker’s skeleton (a species whose fate remains a mystery); and images of egrets, orioles and other favorites.
The portraits represent one-tenth of the historical society’s permanent collection of 435 original Audubon watercolors, which were preparatory for his famed The Birds of America (1827‱838).
The ivory-billed woodpecker, red-tailed hawk in courtship dance, and dozens of Audubon masterpieces will be part of a multimedia “Virtual Aviary,” which will also feature recorded bird calls and video from the Cornell lab of ornithology.
Another highlight will be a newly restored taxonomic listing of 425 bird species created in 1837 by Audubon and Charles Lucien Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon, which will be on view to the public for the first time.
“Audubon’s Aviary” opens concurrently with “The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America,” an exhibition next door at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street. These complementary shows offer an opportunity to view the full range of Audubon’s masterworks.
Supplementary public programs will include a gallery tour by curator of drawings Roberta J.M. Olson and guided bird walks in Central Park’s Ramble. For more information on these special programs, 212-873-4205.
The New-York Historical Society is at Two West 77th Street. For information, www.nyhistory.org or 212-873-3400.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm