Forgotten in crates in La Rochelle for more than a century, the early drawings of the naturalist painter Jean-Jacques Audubon are exhibited by the Museum of the city.
A naturalist painter famous in the United States, the Frenchman Jean-Jacques Audubon (1785-1851) remains unknown in his home, where he nevertheless made his first works: forgotten in crates in La Rochelle for more than a century, his drawings of youth are exhibited by the City Museum.
The opportunity until the end of March for bird lovers and Audubon enthusiasts – who gave his name to many localities across the Atlantic and to a strong ornithological foundation of 600,000 members – to discover boards until then unknown to the general public. In particular, her „first American drawings, which are all here“, assures the AFP the curator of the exhibition of the Museum of Natural History of La Rochelle, Lucille Bourroux.
A total of 131 drawings were rediscovered by chance in the 1990s in wooden cases where were stored in bulk the archives of the Society of Natural Sciences of Charente-Maritime, she says. They probably took the dust there since Charles-Marie d’Orbigny had donated it, in 1852, to this learned society which still owns it …
Because it is in contact with M. d’Orbigny that the young Audubon, little interested in his maritime studies (he has seasickness) but fascinated by the birds of the swamps on the banks of the Loire where he grew up, was initiated to the technique of naturalistic drawing.
The 101 plates exhibited at the Museum of La Rochelle illustrate the rapid evolution of the technique of young Audubon.
In 1803, his father, a naval captain who participated in the US war of independence, sent Audubon, just 18 years old, to his Pennsylvania estate to set up a mining operation and escape conscription. in the Napoleonic armies. A commercial failure that still allows the young man to discover the North American forests and their animals, which he paints in the manner of naturalists Buffon and Brisson whose work he knows.
He realizes in passing what is considered the first baggage of a bird in North America. By attaching a silver wire to the leg of a small migratory passerine, the Phebi flycatcher, he will confirm his intuition that this species returns each year to lay in the same place.
– At real scale –
Become an American and since then called „John James“, Audubon makes a final trip to France to say goodbye to his family before settling permanently in the United States. Before leaving, he left to Mr. d’Orbigny as a mark of friendship his drawings made between 1803 and 1806.
Presented alongside naturalized animals allowing a comparison with their model, the 101 boards exhibited at the Museum of La Rochelle illustrate the rapid evolution of the technique of the young man. The school imitation of Buffon’s birds, „which he considered stiff“ according to Mrs. Bourroux, the emergence of its characteristic „paw“: pastels with outlines drawn in graphite pencil to give the illusion of movement.
Paradoxically, for his first American series, most of the birds painted by Audubon are depicted dead and suspended on a thread, presumably a trick to hide an axis of symmetry, like this migratory pigeon („traveling pigeon“) in brown tones disappeared since more of a century.
A naturalist painter famous in the United States, the Frenchman Jean-Jacques Audubon (1785-1851) remains unknown at home.
But despite his gropings and imperfections, the young naturalist already shows the desire to draw on a real scale and to „represent life as he saw it“, with all its colors, says Lucille Bourroux. Like the Carmine reds of the cardinal, Audubon’s emblematic bird chosen for the poster of the exhibition.
An art that will reach its peak twenty years later, after years of skinny cow running the woods, in the book „Birds of America“ which earned him the nickname „American Leonard“. „Produced on one-by-one-by-one-inch boards, this collection is so successful that expeditions will even be funded to allow Audubon to travel to places he does not yet know,“ such as Labrador and Florida explains the curator of the exhibition.
„Birds of America“ is one of the most expensive printed books in the world: in 2010, an original edition was auctioned over ten million dollars, a record at the time.