Around 1820, naturalist John James Audubon declared his intention to paint every bird species in North America. The result of this ambition was Birds of America, published between 1827 and 1838, and featuring 435 life-size, hand-coloured prints. The book’s large size (almost 1m high) and its publication as a series of folios has resulted in very few complete volumes remaining to this day.
Audubon was and is a controversial figure. Many of his practises were criticised by the naturalist community and he profited from the ownership of enslaved people during his lifetime. However, the book itself stands as a reminder of the beauty and fragility of our natural environment, featuring paintings of at least five now-extinct birds. The exhibition will consider both Audubon’s complex and problematic story, as well as the conservation lessons we can learn from his unprecedented publication.
Discover Edinburgh’s integral role in the development of the book and explore the publication’s technical achievement and artistic legacy. See a bound copy of Birds of America on display alongside 46 original, unbound prints from National Museums Scotland’s Library collection, plus rare books, letters, ephemera and taxidermy specimens showing the accurate life-size rendering of Audubon’s paintings.