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One Picture

Taking Flight
He’s most famous for his bird paintings, but as a new exhibition makes clear, John James Audubon’s gift hardly stopped there.

© Dennis Finnin/AMNH

Although his bird paintings might be his most memorable oeuvre, John James Audubon’s swan song, ironically, had nothing to do with ornithology. After following an avian bent for many years, Audubon devoted the final decade of his life to documenting other American fauna. With help from his sons, Victor Gifford and John Woodhouse, and his friend and fellow naturalist John Bachman, Audubon labored over what would eventually become a three-volume work—the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845–1848)—depicting 150 lithographs of mammals found on this continent.

Fans can now acquaint themselves with the less familiar side of the Audubon clan: Through next January 6, the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan offers an inaugural exhibit in the newly renovated Audubon Gallery featuring The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America, a rarely displayed collection of 50 oil paintings, watercolors, and lithographs representing the artist’s last major work.

If patrons are still hungry for more, through May 20 they can get a second helping of Audubon across the street at the New-York Historical Society, where Audubon’s Aviary: Natural Selection, the third installment of a five-part annual Audubon series, showcases 43 original watercolors of birds. Grouped into two to three studies on the same species, the pieces demonstrate the artistic process Audubon went through to create Birds of America, originally a four-volume work consisting of 435 engraved plates of bird species. But the experience isn’t just a visual sensation; while perusing the likenesses of orioles, egrets, and red-tailed hawks, viewers can enjoy the sounds of real birdcalls emanating from unobtrusive speakers. For anyone uncomfortable with captive birds, this is one aviary they won’t want to miss.

Details
*Admission for one exhibit gets patrons into the other.
Exhibit: Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America
Admission: free with admission ticket to the New York Historical Society
Dates: Now through January 6, 2008
Location: American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192
Hours: open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
Telephone: 212-769-5200
More information: www.amnh.org

Exhibit: Audubon’s Aviary: Natural Selection
Admission: general public, $10; senior citizens and educators, $7; students, $6; children under 12 and accompanied by an adult are free
Dates: Now through May 20, 2007
Location: The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Hours: Monday, closed; Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; open Friday until 8 p.m.
Telephone: 212-873-3400
More information: www.nyhistory.org

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Click here to see a selection of Audubon's mammal paintings.
Click here to see a selection of Audubon's bird paintings.
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