John James, John Woodhouse and Victor Gifford Audubon

with text by John Bachman
New York:
Plates 1842 - 1848.
Text: 1846, 1851 & 1854

With the kind permission of Christies, New York: this extract is from their catalogue of 18th May 2012.

" At the same time Audubon was producing the commercially-successful octavo edition of his masterpiece, The Birds of America, he and his sons began production of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, an elephant folio of 150 lithographs meant to match the lavishness of the Birds. Unlike the double-elephant folio Birds, the Quadrupeds was produced entirely in the United States, making it the "largest single colour plate book to be carried to a successful conclusion during the century [in this country]" (Reese). It took the Audubon family five years to publish the 150 plates and there were at that time 300 subscribers.*

" The book was the product of Audubon's collaboration with John Bachman, a pastor who had studied quadrupeds since he was a young man and who was recognized as an authority on the subject in the United States. Audubon knew Bachman's contribution was critical, and endeavoured to convince his friend to push aside his apprehensions about the project. Audubon, ever the energetic and ferocious creator, even when, as he wrote Bachman; "My Hair are grey and I am growing old," felt that the Quadrupeds could be his last outstanding achievement in natural history. The cautious Bachman felt Audubon was hurrying a project about whose subject he felt, "we have much to learn." Bachman finally relented, however, assured that the project would not be hastily produced. Bachman's one condition was that all of the expenses, and the profits, were to be the Audubons'; "I am anxious to do something for the benefit of Victor [Gifford] and John [Woodhouse]." Thus engaged, he urged Audubon; "Employ yourself now in drawing every quadruped you can lay your hands upon."

" During the course of their collaboration, tragedy struck the two men with the deaths of Bachman's daughters Maria and Eliza, who were also the wives of Audubon's sons John Woodhouse and Victor. The loss put a great strain on the relationship, but Audubon tried to heal the wound by dedicating himself with vigour to his Quadrupeds. Audubon had promised Bachman "the very best figures of all our quadrupeds that have ever been thought of or expected," and indeed Bachman was impressed with the results. While the result was not on the scale of the Birds, the Quadrupeds contains the most sumptuous depiction of the mammals of North America produced, and firmly established Audubon as the age's great natural history artist.

" The work originally appeared in thirty numbers with five plates each, with each number costing ten dollars. The success of the octavo edition of the Birds allowed Audubon enough funds to underwrite the printing of the Quadrupeds and to move to the country. The work was to be Audubon's last, and the bickering between Audubon and Bachman, mainly over points of accuracy and detail, continued to the end. With Audubon's eyesight failing, he was not able to see well enough to draw by 1846. He had completed half of the illustrations to the Quadrupeds but by this time was not in a condition to carry on. The completion of the project passed to his two sons, and with Audubon's mental condition weakening, they tried to keep his state out of public notice, in some part to prevent bad publicity from hurting the sales of the Quadrupeds. Audubon remained in a mostly incoherent state until he died on 27 January 1851. (See Shirley Streshinsky, Audubon: Life and Art in the American Wilderness, 1993.) "

* No plate numbered higher than 30 has been located, so it would appear that either; most of the initial subscribers failed in their obligation to purchase the plates, or; this refers to the initial mumber of subscribers for the text volumes as listed at the back of volume 1.

Note: If you have additional information or have discovered an error please make contact.
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