John James Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785 to French sea captain Jean Audubon and Jeanne Rabin, a chambermaid. Not long after he was born, his father moved the family back to France, where Audubon spent his childhood years studying geography, fencing, mathematics, and, of course, art. Nothing seemed to capture young Audubon's interest more than finding and drawing all types of birds as well as their eggs and nests. To prevent him from being conscripted into Napoleon's army, Audubon's father sent him to America at age eighteen to take charge of a farm he had purchased near Philadelphia. Audubon was able to sustain it for a few years, but ultimately his love for hunting and painting birds outweighed any of his other pursuits, and the farm failed. Audubon tried for success in several different business ventures but unfortunately none proved fruitful. After so many failed attempts to provide for his family, he decided to stay devoted to his passion as a way to earn a living and went on a series of voyages to discover more birds to immortalize in his paintings.
In 1826 Audubon ventured to England to find someone willing to publish his work; there, he and his work were received with much praise and he was even hailed as a genius for what would become The Birds of America (1827-1838). The double elephant folio edition consists of 87 parts of 5 hand-colored copperplate engravings and is bound in 4 volumes. The Field Museum Library's copy is one of the only two copies extant (originally made for Audubon's close friends/family) that include 13 additional plates.
John James Audubon Bust, gift of Chauncey and Marion Deering McCormick Foundation. Located in the Marie Louise Rosenthal Library Reading Room.
John James Audubon journal of 1826: incomplete autograph manuscript showing page with handwriting and housing for detached leaf 214. Located in Field Museum Library Rare Book Room. Gift of Charles Palmer and family.