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The First 'Birdman'
-By Luis

IN 1803, a young Frenchman landed in America because he didn't want to be forcibly recruited into Napoleon Bonaparte's army. His father owned a farm in Pennsylvania and his job was to oversee it.
Jean-Jacques Audubon (he later changed it to John James) was enchanted with the verdant woodland surrounding his new home. He would roam the wilds armed with paper and drawing instruments.
The young naturalist had set himself the monumental task of painting every bird species in his adopted country. These he would depict in their natural surroundings, preening, nesting, raising their young, all captured in the minutest detail.
The result was his magnum opus, The Birds of America, which documents 60% of American birdlife.

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However, Audubon's observations have not been considered scientific by ornithologists.
Each painting was made on paper measuring 100 cm x 65 cm but even this size wasn't enough and Audubon was sometimes forced to portray his avian subjects in awkward positions.
Audubon soon found that American publishers were not interested in his work. In 1826, he sailed to England and Scotland to promote his book. He would entertain invited audiences with stories of his experiences in America's wilderness. He'd do imitations of bird calls and wolf-howls as well!
Finally, some 200 copies of The Birds of America saw the light of day. Costing $1000 each, the four volumes (the heaviest weighed 25 kilos!) contained 435 plates with 1065 bird paintings.
Audubon died in 1851. The Audubon Society was founded in 1905 and has over 600,000 paying members. In 1987, a complete set of his works sold for $2 million at a Christie's auction in New York.

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