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Out of the Wild: John James Audubon's Four-Legged Mammals of North America

October 1 - December 31, 2005


Joslyn Art Museum announces an exhibition of select works from a set of John James Audubon prints recently acquired by the Museum. The exhibition, Out of the Wild: John James Audubon's Four-Legged Mammals of North America, showcases a selection of the 150 hand-colored lithographs comprising the Vivparous Quadrupeds of North America series, all wonderfully animated, superbly rendered, and beautifully printed. The exhibition begins October 1 and continues through December 31, 2005. (right: John James Audubon (American, 1785­1851), Common American Wild Cat, Plate I from The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America,1845-48, hand-colored lithograph, Collection of Joslyn Art Museum, Museum purchase, 2004)

Best known for his monumental masterpiece, The Birds of America series, the noted artist/naturalist John James Audubon( 1785-1851) undertook a second, equally ambitious project in the 1830s -- creating the definitive study of American wildlife, matching the great combination of art and science attained in The Birds of America. The result of years of field research, travel, and seemingly endless study was The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, the most important book on American animals produced in the 19th century.

Despite his newly acquired wealth and celebrity resulting from the success of The Birds of America, Audubon executed many of the preparatory drawings and watercolors for Quadrupeds personally and in the end completed 77 drawings before his death in 1851. Another key contributor to the project was Reverend John Bachman of Charleston, South Carolina. Audubon's closest friend and supporter for many years, Bachman wrote detailed descriptions of each animal (habits, habitat, appearance, and geographic distribution) and acted as scientific editor for the work. Maria Martin, Bachman's sister-in-law and a skilled draftsperson, worked as Audubon's assistant and painter of backgrounds. Audubon's two sons, John Woodhouse and Victor Gifford, also took critical roles including financial management of the book. With his sons, Audubon traveled through the Eastern woodlands, and through Missouri to the Rocky Mountains (a six month expedition). Together they collected and drew specimens along the Mississippi, as well as in coastal regions of Florida and the East Coast. In addition to his assistant and sons, Audubon travelled with a secretary, an artist, and a taxidermist. When Audubon became too sick to complete the project, John Woodhouse took over the bulk of the painting duties.After Audubon's death, his sons saw the book to completion.

Although Audubon discovered no new species of mammals during his western journey, he made many field sketches and collected skins of 23 animals. In order to make accurate drawings from the dry animal skins, Audubon devised a way of positioning the skins using wires. Three live animals were taken back to his home in New York: a Swift Fox, a Badger, and a Rocky Mountain Deer. Experts agree that the animals Audubon painted from live specimens are by far the best in Quadrupeds. The animals depicted by the project are four-legged (quadruped: an animal having four feet) mammals (viviparous: producing living young instead of eggs from within the body) found in the US and Canada. These range from the Common American Wildcat, Grizzly Bear, Cougar, and Jaguar to the Ground Hog, Canada Otter, Virginian Opossum, and Armadillo. Audubon's mammal paintings include 31 different squirrels, 14 rabbits and hares, and over 20 mice and rats, along with animals that may be new to the viewer including the Collared Peccary (the only wild, native, pig-like animal found in the US) and Ring-Tailed Bassarius (a raccoon-like animal).

The lithographs comprising The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America series were printed between 1845 and 1848 under the direction of J.T. Bowen and his large team of lithographers and colorists and sold through subscription. Before their father's death in 1851, John Woodhouse and Victor had already solicited some 300 subscriptions for the Quadrupeds. (right: John James Audubon (American, 1785­1851), Virginian Opossum, Plate LXVI from The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America,1845-48, hand-colored lithograph, Collection of Joslyn Art Museum, Museum purchase, 2004)

Gallery Guide

A free Out of the Wild exhibition guide is available in the galleries. The piece invites adults and children to investigate artworks together, combining information, questions, and activities in order to provide a learning experience that is both flexible and engaging. The guide allows young visitors to Out of the Wild to see how artists of the past acted as naturalists, to learn about the scientific classification of species, and appreciate the tradition of drawing natural objects realistically through careful study.


Special Events, Tours, and Materials

Bodmer Society -- On Monday, September 26, Joslyn Art Museum's Bodmer Society will hold its annual rendezvous! dinner beginning at 6 pm. In celebration of the exhibition Out of the Wild: John James Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, the special guest and speaker for the evening will be Audubon print expert and author Bill Steiner. His book Audubon Art Prints: A Collector's Guide to Every Edition is the most comprehensive guide available to the bird and quadruped prints of John James Audubon. Steiner is a field ecologist and expert bird-watcher who has compiled one of the most significant private collections of Audubon prints in the US. An accomplished entomologist, herpetologist, and horticulturist, he holds degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and lives in Lithonia, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. Bodmer Society members will receive an invitation to this special evening. For details about joining the Bodmer Society, contact Sabrina Weiss, Joslyn Art Museum Foundation director of patron programs, at (402) 342-3300.

Family Fun Day -- On Sunday, November 6 from 1-4 pm, Joslyn will host a free Family Fun Day for Out of the Wild: John James Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. This event for all ages will include exhibition viewing, storytelling, art-making, and a special presentation by Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. Call (402) 342-3300 for more information.

Guided Public Tours -- Guided public tours for the Out of the Wild exhibition are scheduled for the following days at 1 pm: Saturdays, October 15, 29, November 12, 26, December 10; and Wednesdays, October 19, November 2, 16, 30, December 14, 28. Guided public tours for Out of the Wild: John James Audubon's Four-Legged Mammals of North America are free with Museum admission and meet in the atrium just before the scheduled start time.


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:

and this video:

John James Audubon: The Birds of America is a 29 minute, 1985 National Gallery of Art program directed by Steve York. After bankruptcy in business ventures in the early 19th century, John James Audubon set out on his amazing quest to render the birds of our country. His lifelong dream was realized with the publication of The Birds of America, a magnificent collection of color engravings of his watercolors, and which established Audubon as this nation's preeminent naturalist artist. The video "Traces Audubon's career as a dedicated artist who documented the entire pantheon of American birds and who wrote extensively on nature and the American wilderness. With quotations from his journals and illustrated with his original drawings and engravings, it tells the unique story of Audubon's artistic development and of his uncompromising devotion to his dream of publishing The Birds of America. The works of art are interwoven with live-motion nature photography and footage of sites prominent in Audubon's life and work. with viewer's guide."


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