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1 .<-NARRATOR:->Listen to part of a lecture in an art history class. The professor has been discussing illustrated books.
1 .<-MALE PROFESSOR:->I want to take a look at one particular book to give you an idea about what was involved in publishing illustrated books in the 1800s.
2 .The book’s called The Birds of America, and the illustrator was John James Audubon.
1 .So … The Birds of America … four volumes which contained illustrations of nearly every bird in the United States, over 400 birds, all hand-colored, all painted life-sized, the larger birds printed on the largest printing paper available at that time.
2 .This required a lot of dedication, and Audubon is best remembered as an incredibly meticulous, accurate artist, a very accomplished illustrator of the natural world.
3 .And while there were other artists working on similar projects at the same time,
4 .Audubon’s book remains the most well-known and successful of its kind.
5 .But, uh, let’s talk a bit about Audubon himself first.
1 .First of all, Audubon was not a traditional painter,
2 .and by this, I mean that he didn’t work in oils.
3 .He preferred to use watercolor and pastel crayons, and he worked on paper instead of on canvas.
4 .The thing is, Audubon considered the illustrations in his book, not the original watercolors, to be the finished product.
5 .His watercolors were merely preparatory studies, most of which were painted while he was observing birds in the wild.
6 .These watercolors were then sent to his printer, who created the final prints for the book.
7 .And Audubon was so concerned with accuracy that he often scribbled notes to the printer around the edges of these original watercolors.
1 .In fact, you might question whether producing a work of art was even Audubon’s goal.
2 .Now, when I look at an Audubon illustration, I see a work of art.
3 .But, it may make more sense to consider Audubon, first and foremost, as a naturalist, as a scientist.
4 .See, the early nineteenth century when Audubon was painting was a time of major scientific inquiry.
5 .And an essential way of spreading scientific knowledge was through illustrated books.
1 .<-FEMALE STUDENT:->So what did Audubon consider himself? An artist or a scientist?
1 .<-MALE PROFESSOR:->I’m not sure the distinction between the two was all that clear in the 1800s.
2 .I think we can accurately state that … that the driving force in his art was getting the science right.
3 .And this was perhaps a point that critics of his artwork at the time just didn’t appreciate.
1 .Audubon also studied birds in ways that didn’t directly inform his art.
2 .Uh, you know what bird banding is, right?
3 .A bird has a band attached to its foot so we can learn about things like migration patterns.
4 .Well, the first recorded instance of anyone doing that, it was Audubon.
5 .Another example, a common belief at the time was that vultures use their sense of smell to find food.
6 .Audubon didn’t believe that, so he tested it.
7 .He put a large painting of a dead sheep in a field, and sure enough: vultures found it and started pecking at it.
1 .Now, Audubon’s work was very accurate, and we know this because we can compare his illustrations to the birds around us.
2 .But sometimes it’s not possible to check.
3 .There’re actually several birds in his book that no one’s ever seen.
4 .These are sometimes called Audubon’s “mystery birds,” because even though he drew them, there’s no evidence that they exist in the wild.
5 .For someone who’s respected as a naturalist, isn’t it strange to think that he drew some birds that don’t appear to be real?
1 .For example, there’s an illustration that appears to be a type of warbler, a small bird.
2 .It has a white ring around its eyes and white bars on its wings.
3 .No one’s ever seen a warbler like this,
4 .so some people wonder if Audubon maybe forgot certain details about this bird when he painted it,
5 .or that he copied another artist’s work. But considering that Audubon was such a meticulous artist.
6 .Well, there might be a better answer.
1 .Hybridization is something that’s well known in birds.
2 .And it definitely explains a rather unique-looking duck Audubon painted.
3 .He himself suggested that maybe it wasn’t an unknown species, but a hybrid, born from two different species.
4 .Since then, this particular crossing of species has actually been recorded, both in the wild and in captivity,
5 .so it turns out that Audubon was right, and this duck actually was a hybrid.