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
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
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.
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
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.