John James Audubon (American, 1785
Savanna Finch, 1831, watercolor. Gift of Mrs.
Hattie Bishop Speed 1929.30
John James Audubon was a French-American artist and
ornithologist, best known for Birds of America,
a four volume collection of 435 life size prints of
North American birds. Audubon was born in Haiti and
spent part of his young life in France before being
sent to America, in part to avoid conscription into
Napoleon’s army. He spent more than a decade in
business in Louisville and Henderson, Kentucky, all
the while drawing birds as a hobby. When his business
failed in 1819 he was jailed briefly for bankruptcy.
With no other prospects Audubon set off on his epic
quest to document every bird in America. This watercolor
of the Savanna Finch was made during the printing of
Birds of America. In the work you can see the
high standards Audubon set for himself. The work exhibits
a level of detail and naturalism that was unknown in
previous ornithological works.