Autry Museum of Western Heritage

Los Angeles, California


photo, ©1999 John Hazeltine


John James Audubon in the West: The Last Expedition. Mammals of North America


Millions of nature lovers are familiar with Audubon's exquisite portraits of birds in his masterpiece The Birds of America. Less well known, yet of great significance, is a second masterwork by the noted artist/naturalist, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America - a series of illustrations devoted to the four-legged mammals of North America. The story of this remarkable publication is the subject of a fascinating exhibition organized by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.

John James Audubon in the West explores the great naturalist's 1843 journey up the Missouri River and the resultant publication, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. By combining original oils and prints depicting mammals with artifacts collected along the journey and the art of his contemporaries, this exhibition reveals Audubon's dual roles as artist and scientist. Through art and environmental history, Audubon is established as an important contributor to both the scholarly and creative milieu of his time. (left: John James Audubon, Swift Fox (detail), plate 52, hand-colored lithograph. Image: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming)

An ambitious adventurer who believed in the importance of firsthand observation, Audubon found that documenting the animal life of the American West posed even greater challenges to his considerable skills as an artist-naturalist than did the birds. Some species, like the black-footed ferret, were already in danger of extinction, while others simply eluded him. The ambitious project also sorely tested the physical and mental stamina of the aging artist, who faltered before he could complete the work. Fortunately for posterity, Audubon's two sons, along with his old friend and colleague, the Reverend John Bachman, and the talented Philadelphia Lithographic Company of J. T. Bowen, completed the job. (right: John James Audubon, J. T. Bowen, lithographer, Eastern Grey Squirrel, 1842. hand-colored lithograph, 26 1/2 x 22 7/16 inches. Image: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming)

This unique exhibition presents the first comprehensive look at Audubon's final expedition to the West. Given the ongoing debate over the future of wilderness and wildlife throughout the region, it is a particularly timely inquiry. Bringing together art and science, the exhibition uses Audubon's exquisite illustrations to document his final journey and the creation of his second great masterpiece. Also included in the exhibit are original documents and artifacts from the exploration party - including Audubon's letters detailing their progress, and Native American artifacts and significant works of art by Audubon's contemporaries including George Catlin and Alfred Jacob Miller. (left: John James Audubon, J. T. Bowen, lithographer, Bos Americanus, American Bison or Buffalo, plate #56, 1845, hand-colored lithograph, 19 x 25 1/8 inches. Image: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming)

Read earlier articles relating to John James Audubon:

Other Audubon image and biography resources on the Internet:

Read more about the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Resource Library Magazine

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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