Rare Spec­i­men

Duke of Port­land’s set of John James Audubon books sells at Christie’s for $9.6 mil­lion.

Western Art Collector - - WESTERN ART NEWS -

By all es­ti­mates John James Audubon’s mag­num opus, The Birds of Amer­ica, had a print run of 175 to 200 edi­tions. From that orig­i­nal print­ing, 120 com­plete edi­tions are known to have sur­vived, with 107 of them in the col­lec­tions of in­sti­tu­tions, leav­ing just 13 in pri­vate hands.

One of those 13 edi­tions, a set owned by the fourth Duke of Port­land, sold at Christie’s June 14 for $9.6 mil­lion, within es­ti­mates of $8 mil­lion to $12 mil­lion. The full set is made up of four vol­umes of dou­bleele­phant fo­lios with 435 hand­col­ored cop­per­plate etch­ings and five bound text vol­umes, known as the Or­nitho­log­i­cal Bi­og­ra­phy. The works are el­e­gantly bound and gilded by royal English book­binder John Macken­zie.

Based on the bind­ing and other mark­ings, it is es­ti­mated that the book set was pur­chased by the fourth Duke of Port­land, Wil­liam Henry Cavendish-scot­tbentinck (1768-1854), who was pas­sion­ate about nat­u­ral his­tory. The set passed down to the fifth and sixth Dukes of Port­land, and was later sold to Christie’s in 2012, when it was pur­chased by the late Wy­oming con­ser­va­tion­ist Carl W. Knobloch Jr., who gifted it to his foun­da­tion, Knobloch Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

Audubon’s book ce­mented his sta­tus as one of Amer­ica’s ear­li­est and most pro­lific or­nithol­o­gists—the Na­tional Audubon So­ci­ety was cre­ated in 1905 and named in his honor. Plates from the book, and oc­ca­sion­ally Audubon’s orig­i­nal wa­ter­color paint­ings that the etch­ings were based on, are sta­ples at mu­se­ums around the world. The book is known for its mas­sive dou­bleele­phant size, as well as the com­pre­hen­sive cat­a­log of birds, many of them ren­dered in life­size com­po­si­tions. Some of the most fa­mous pages fea­ture birds such as the golden ea­gle, win­ter hawk, wild tur­key and the great blue heron. The books, pub­lished from 1827 to 1838, fea­ture six birds that are now ex­tinct: Carolina para­keet, pas­sen­ger pi­geon, Labrador duck, great auk, Eskimo curlew and pin­nated grouse.

John James Audubon (1785-1851), The Win­ter Hawk (Plate LXXI) (Cir­cus hye­malis), hand­col­ored etch­ing, 26 x 39”

John James Audubon (1785-1851), Great Blue Heron (Plate CCXI) (Ardea Hero­dias), from The Birds of Amer­ica, hand­col­ored etch­ing, 39 x 26”

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