John James Audubon, the world’s most famous ornithologist, is known to have said that a day in which he killed fewer than 100 birds was a day wasted. So why is he so renowned?
Because the beautiful watercolor bird paintings he left us (mainly done from dead, wired birds) so vividly depict the natural opulence of the United States in the early half of the 19th century–before photography had turned to colour and zoom–that maybe we can forgive him his profligacy.
There are roughly 200 original sets of Audubon’s 435 paintings, assembled in book form as Birds of America. This morning, an edition was sold at a Christie’s auction for $7.9 million. Another edition of the book sold last year for $11.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction, making it the most expensive printed book ever sold.
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