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BIRDS OF AMERICA BY JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1785 - 1851)
PLATE 1 - Engraved by W. H. LIZARS, retouched by ROBERT HAVELL

WILD TURKEY (Male)

                                                                                      
CLOSE-UP - John Audubon, Birds of America - WILD TURKEY - Meleagris gallopavo



WILD TURKEY (Male)  -  Meleagris gallopavo.
and
AMERICAN CANE -  Miegia macrosperma.

IMAGE REF: AUD034

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Plate 1 - Wild Turkey (Male) Restoration Notes

This print has an interesting history and was without doubt one of the most difficult, but most rewarding to restore.

Audubon first approached Lizars of Edinburgh to engrave, colour and print his work. Lizars was the foremost printer of the day and Audubon wanted the best. However, the work turned out to be of extremely poor quality with Lizars' artisans being unable or unwilling to handle the extremely fine detail on the massive plates demanded by Audubon. The plate engraving was careless to the extent that some elements were left out or left detached from everything else. The shading was clumsy and brutal in its effect. When compared with the original water-colour it seems that although the main subject was carefully traced and transcribed, the background was not. The etching of the shadows was similarly liberal - the etcher splashing around with the acid like a puppy in a puddle.

It is no wonder that Audubon seized upon the excuse of a colouristsí strike at Lizars to take his custom (and his plates) to London where the Robert Havell workshop quoted a lower price with the promise of much higher quality. Havellís son, Robert, reworked the plate as best he could. Unlike Havellís son, we were not constrained by the physical nature of the metal plate and so have been able to correct all the residual engraving and etching faults, guided always by close reference to the original water-colour.

It would seem, however, that Havellís colourists were somewhat disenchanted with the prints presented to them for colouring, as their work on this plate falls very far short of the standard seen in their later work. Close examination of the original prints soon exposes the casual distain with which they apparently worked.

The original water-colour is itself not free of problems.  Audubon was an experimentalist and very fond of trying new techniques and methods in his work.  The Wild Turkey is an extreme case in point. Within this image he tried to imitate a Renaissance technique of using gold leaf as a ground for a translucent, reflective effect. Unfortunately he used powdered bronze or brass-based paint instead of gold leaf and over time the metals have tarnished, corroded and reacted with the overlaid red and blue colour glazes so that virtually the entire bird, including the originally bright red wattles, has become a monochromatic, russet brown. No self respecting male turkey ever looked like this.

The colours in the prints are extremely variable from one specimen to another, but all show dramatic changes to plumage colour similar to those seen in the original water-colour. Some examples are predominately olive-green while others are a very dark, reddish brown (see examples below). None shows anything even approaching the colours of a living, adult male, wild turkey. Perhaps chemical analysis of the pigments used would shed some light on why prints of this plate in particular show such variation from one specimen to another and such savage colour degradation in all cases. Maybe Havell was also experimenting, trying to imitate the original, glowing effect of the then fresh water-colour and falling into the same trap of using metal based pigments. Contemporary work from other publications by John Curtis and William Lewin for example, has not suffered in the same way. Fortunately, work on most of Audubon's later plates seems to have escaped such experimentation, an exception being plate 184, Mangrove Humming Bird where once again metal based pigments appear to have been used to represent the diffracted and highly saturated colours of the feathers.

It is has been possible by careful spectral analysis of the residual tones of both the prints and water-colour to approximate the original colours and by comparing these to real life wild turkeys we are sure that our results are accurate as can be. With care it has been possible to shift the spectrum of the original print colours back to their correct hues.  Other than this, and the correction of the obvious engraving, colourists' and aging faults, at no point in the restoration process has any additional colour or other change been introduced into the final image.

The restoration of this image involved over 250 hours of precision work. The result, we believe, is now exactly as Audubon would have wished.

Original Prints showing degradation effects of the decayed metal(?) pigments.

A sample of original, surviving prints demonstrating the dramatic effect of (metal based?) pigment failure and the extreme variation between examples. In all cases, the greens and particularly the blues in the plumage have been seriously compromised.

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