THE BIRDS OF AMERICA

John James Audubon

Havell Edition
London: 1823 - 1837

Much has been written about this magnificent work, but little credit has been given to the input from Robert Havell Junior, a consummate artist in his own right. Audubon provided the original watercolours, often little more than coloured sketches, and left it to Havell to add the exquisite detail. Audubon never properly acknowledged Havell's principal role in the production of this work. The life-size nature of the illustrations keeps this work securely in the public eye, but it was Havell's input that took the images to the highest level.

 

During the restoration process, every square millimetre of every plate was minutely examined, revealing fine details not normally visible to the naked eye. Drafting and etching mistakes by Havell are very rare, however, the colourists' work can only be described as casual at best.

 

It is a matter of personal taste whether or not to print the images on off-white or "antique style" paper. When originally published, the Whatman Turkey Mill paper was as white as any modern paper (as shown by well preserved specimens). The brown and beige paper and catastrophically degraded colours seen today are the result of a life of nearly 200 years, of which some 120 years were exposed to a foul, coal-fire pollued, industrial era atmosphere.   Havell and Audubon never expected their work to last much more than a life-time, and it almost didn't.


Love it or hate it, the colours are now shown as would have appeared on the day of publication. All the etching and printing errors and the plentiful colourists' mistakes have also been fully corrected.


Audubon gives personal notes and a full description of each species in his book: An Ornithological Biography.