John James Audubon (Jean-Jacques Audubon) (April 26, 1785 – January 27, 1851) was a man of one idea, an enthusiast and devotee to his single chosen subject of fascinated study.
His devotion to that study was strangely unselfish and even self-sacrificing. To it he gave time, toil, the endurance of hardship, and an utter disregard of personal well-being throughout long years.
In all this, he seems to have had no idea whatever of gain, or even of reputation. It was not, indeed, until he was a man of middle age that he seems ever to have thought of turning to any practical account the results of his long years of diligent endeavor.
He was the son of a French naval officer, and was born in Louisiana, May 4, 178o. His father thought to train him for a career similar to his own as an officer in the French navy, but the boy from his earliest childhood manifested a passion for natural history which was not only absorbing but strangely exclusive of interest in anything else.
As a mere child he was a student of animals and birds, but more particularly of birds. It was his habit o make drawings of them and to color these, when he could, as faithfully as his untrained eye and hand would permit. In view of his later eminence in this department, it seems a special pity that he was modest while a boy, and burned those juvenile efforts, which, had they been preserved, would have had an interest peculiar to themselves, and quite inestimable.
The making of these pictures began soon after his early infancy was past. The passion that inspired them seems to have been born with the boy. It was observed by his parents while he was yet in pinafores.
It was impossible to educate such a boy in any but the one direction of his own choice, and his father, wisely realizing this, sought to make a painter of him. To that end he placed him as a student with David, who was then foremost among painters, and especially notable for his capacity to instruct young pupils, particularly in the art of drawing.
But young Audubon took little interest in the work assigned him in the studio. Following his instincts, instead, he spent the time he should have given to the study of perspective in wandering through the woods and fields, and making more and more intimate acquaintance with his friends, the birds. These he portrayed in preference to the subjects that David set for him to study.
When young Audubon was seventeen years of age, his father abandoned all effort to give him a regular education, even in art, and sent him to live the wild life that he preferred, on a farm which he owned near Philadelphia. Here began that wonderful collection of birds and eggs which made Audubon's name famous in after years. Here, too, began in earnest his work of painting portraits of his specimens, though to him it did not present itself as work, or impress him in any sense as a matter of serious endeavor. He pictured his birds with fidelity because he loved them, taking no thought whatever for any use that might be made of his pictures.
This is borne out by comparison with Audubon's Self-Portrait (private collection) made two months earlier. As for his 'enraged Eagle' eyes, they were commented upon by others. Together with his beaklike nose and flowing hair, they made and indelible impression upon all who met the artist- naturalist . . . ."
Source / Photographer: The White House Historical Association.
This IMAGE (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.This applies to the United States, where Works published prior to 1978 were copyright protected for a maximum of 75 years. See Circular 1 "COPYRIGHT BASICS" PDF from the U.S. Copyright Office. Works published before 1923 (in this case 1826) are now in the public domain.
This file is also in the public domain in countries that figure copyright from the date of death of the artist (post mortem auctoris) in this case John Syme (1795 - 1861), and that most commonly runs for a period of 50 to 70 years from December 31st of that year.
TEXT CREDIT: The American immortals: the record of men who by their achievement in statecraft, war, science, literature, art, law and commerce have created the American republic, and whose names are inscribed in the Hall of fame