Thursday, December 9, 2010

World's most expensive book about birds

Now THAT'S a book! A Sotheby's auction house employee lends scale to the massive tome that is John James Audubon's Birds of America. An intact edition just sold at auction for a jaw-dropping $10,207,000, making it the world's most costly book.

Everything about Birds of America is epic. Its size, the dramatic and vivid quality of the 435 plates within, and of course the artist himself. Audubon's depictions of birds have always been my my favorites, and ditto for many others. I have a miniature reproduction of Birds of America, with all 435 plates, and look at it every day as it sits open to one plate or another on a shelf on my office. People who visit are often drawn to the plates.

I have also seen one of the 119 copies that are thought to still be in existence. The real deal is magnificent; alluring enough that someone would pay the price of yacht to own one. Only 11 copies are believed to be in private hands, so this opportunity doesn't come along very often. The book's original cost, in the mid-1800's, was about $1000.

Small wonder people tend to be smitten with Audubon's art. This painting of Blue Jays brings out the drama that Audubon was able to inject into his works. The jays are caught in the act of plundering a nest and eating the eggs. A beautiful liana of cross-vine, Bignonia capreolata (probably NOT drawn by Audubon) snakes its way up the snag and lends realism to the work.

Audubon was an ultra-keen observer of animals, and was an absolute master at capturing their personalities. Note the jay on the left. Quite the piggish fellow; so eager for the succulent yolk that he has impaled the egg on his bill. But that's just how these birds behave. It's as if Audubon virtually brought the birds to life on the page.

A pair of Barn Owls grapple with a luckless chipmunk. Some of Audubon's depictions of raptors, such as his Golden Eagle or Red-tailed Hawk, border on the gruesome. But they aren't really - he painted the birds as they are, doing what they do.

The plates within this magnificent book are much more than an assemblage of art pieces. They are a documentary of one of the world's greatest artists, who lived an extraordinary life of frontier adventure, at a time when America was poorly known and few had looked it its birds.

Congratulations to the lucky - and wealthy - new owner.


Vincent Lucas said...

Call me pessimistic, but somehow, I just knew my bid of $24.95 wasn't going to hold!

Anonymous said...

I got a reproduction of it that is coffee table scale through a bargain books catalog for less than$40 a few years ago. It is still a big heavy book! I had never seen how big the originals were until now. The behavior(and plants) he captures are great.

OpposableChums said...

I'm gonna wait for the movie.

Jim McCormac said...

That's the volume that I've got too, Brian. An impressive reproduction but a mere shadow of the real thing.

I'm waiting for the movie, too, Jason - and you'll have to make it!

Birding is Fun! said...

You're a great write Jim. Your style has such a pleasant and charming flow, almost like a narration for Planet Earth, but with more personality!

Jim McCormac said...

Very nice compliment - thank you, Robert!