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Walking with Birds: The Art of Audubon and MacGillivray

Birds of America

Robert Havell's Shop

Robert Havell’s shop c. 1834. Source: Francis Hobart Herrick, Audubon the Naturalist (1917), vol 1

Walking with Birds in case

Walking with Birds is known as a Double Elephant folio and over a metre in height

In 1826 Audubon arrived in Britain desperately seeking funding and a publisher for Birds of America. His romantic image as an ‘American woodsman’ and his flamboyant personality attracted public attention first in Liverpool then in Edinburgh, and he quickly found sponsors for his art after years of financial struggle. He issued the drawings in sections by subscription, a common way of raising money for very expensive publications. Audubon hired William Home Lizars in Edinburgh as a printer, but just 10 drawings were printed before a strike forced Audubon to move production to the firm of Havell and Son in London.

Havell Junior himself copied and traced almost all of the remaining 425 life-size paintings. He expanded his company to complete the project, employing at least 50 colourists to hand-colour each image. The largest life-size drawing was the size of an American turkey, so the prints were on the largest paper available: Whatman Double Elephant paper. The book is now known as a “Double Elephant folio”.

Subscribers received one large, one medium and three small bird drawings per issue between 1827 and 1838. During this time Audubon consistently promoted his work to new subscribers to maintain his funding, and travelled between America and Britain to supervise printing.


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