Saturday, May 11, 2013

Audubon and the Elusive Flamingo

The actual bird still exists, but it's quite elusive. You may be able to glimpse it -- if you're a lucky birder -- in the U.S. in the Florida Everglades. Likewise, John James Audubon's print of the Flamingo is rare, very sought after, and very expensive.

John James Audubon Flamingo

Almost 200 years ago, John James Audubon showcased the Flamingo in his print series, Birds of America, Plate 431. The image is a gorgeous aquatint engraving, and he added original hand coloring. The original Audubon American Flamingo was produced between 1827-1838. At a recent auction, one of those original Flamingo prints was estimated to sell for $250,000.

Death of Flamingos

So how did Audubon capture so beautifully the image of this magnificant American Flamingo? Today's naturalists would observe the birds in their natural habitat, or at least take photos of them to paint later on, back in their studio.

Not old Audubon -- nope. Cameras were not yet available -- they were busy being invented back in the early 1800s. And it wouldn't have been very comfortable standing around in the messy, mosquito-infested swamp with paintbrush and paper in hand, either.

So, Audubon did what any old-fashioned naturalist wold have done -- he shot his flamingos -- literally, then took the dead animals back to the studio. There, he propped them up with wire and thread to use as his macabre models. It is said that he used over 50 dead flamingos as dead models. What a shame. Yet, the result was amazing -- this is the image that he produced, very successfully, stunning, and memorable. Genius.

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