John James Audubon – Birds of America

Jennifer Roberts describes J.J. Audubon’s process for drawing Birds of America:

“In what amounted to a form of ghastly puppetry appropriate to the age of Frankenstein… he would piece the warm body of the dead bird with sharpened wires and pin it in a lifelike pose to a gridded board before drawing it… He often completed an image just when the carcass had putrefied beyond the point of formal integrity or olfactory endurance…. Fixing the colors on his page as they drained form the specimen, he might be forgiven for feeling, from time to time, as if he were actually succeeding in drawing the life out of the body of the bird, filament by feathery filament, into the covalent body of the drawing. Precisely as the body dissolved, so the drawing evolved, securing ever more fully a sense of physical presence.” — Transporting Visions, Roberts

My pencil gave birth to a family of cripples. So maimed were most of them, that they resembled the mangled corpses on a field of battle, compared with the integrity of living men.The moment a bird was dead, however beautiful it had been when in life, the pleasure arising from teh possession of it became blunted; and although the  was bestowed on endeavors to preserve the appearance of nature, I looked upon its vesture as more than sullied, as requiring constant attention and repeated mendings, while, after all, it could no longer be said to be fresh from the hands of its Maker.  I wished to possess all the productions of nature, but I wished life with them. — J.J. Audubon

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