American artist and naturalist John James Audubon was born in Haiti and raised in France. He showed an early interest in birds and their habitats, the subject matter that became his life’s calling. He followed in his father’s footsteps by attending military school. However, failing to qualify as a naval officer, he happily returned to his ornithological studies.
In 1803, Audubon moved to America and began to study the birds native to his new home. His intention was to depict them, their behavior and their surroundings in a realistic manner, aided by his proficiency in specimen preparation and taxidermy. While supporting his family as a merchant, Audubon continued to draw and paint, making detailed field notes to accompany his work.
In 1826, Audubon took his collected works to England, where he was received with great acclaim. He raised enough money to publish The Birds of America, a monumental achievement consisting of 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species printed from engraved copper plates. He followed his magnum opus with a sequel, Ornithological Biographies, and in the 1830s, he updated The Birds of America with 65 additional plates.
Not content with resting on his laurels, the early 1840s found Audubon expanding his focus beyond birds. His next large-scale project, The Viviparous Quadrupeds Of North America, was dedicated solely to mammals. In this publication, Audubon included 150 hand-printed and hand-colored folio drawings. In the late 1840s, Audubon returned to the American West, hoping to record species he had missed, but his health began to fail. Audubon passed away in 1851 at his family home in New York.