York Historical Society recently exhibitednall of Audubon’s 433 known originalnwatercolors, painted for his monumentalnvolume, The Birds of America.n”Audubon’s Birds of North America:nThe Original Watercolors,” on viewnfrom mid-April to mid-September,nalso included in its displays other objectsnand artifacts illuminating Audubon’snlife and work.n”John James Audubon: Science IntonArt,” another special exhibition examiningnthe scientific and artisticnachievements of Audubon, opened onnApril 18 and closed on July 21 at thenAmerican Museum of Natural History.nThis exhibition of paintings, prints,ndocuments, and memorabilia, chosennfrom the American Museum’s collections,nincluded two new, hand-colorednBirds of America prints pressed fromntheir original, restored copperplates.nThis will be the first hand-colored andnrestored issue of these particular platesnsince 1838, when the original editionnof the Birds of America was completed.nBoth of these shows enhanced ournknowledge and understanding of Audubon’snstupendous lifelong devotionnto painting the birds and beasts ofnNorth America.nThe New York Historical Societynmay well be “New York’s best keptnsecret.” Located on Central Park West,nit is adjacent to the American Museumnof Natural History. Architecturally,nthese two venerable landmarks arenthe Castor and Pollux of New York’snart world. The crowds — approximatelyntwo and a half million personsnannually—converge on the AmericannMuseum. Visiting the Historical Society,non the other hand, is like being annhonored guest at the home of the mostncivilized, cultivated, and well-heelednNew Yorker. Once, not too long ago,ntwo eminent Australian decorators toldnme that they had exactly a day to spendnin Manhattan. Without batting anneye, I said, “The New York HistoricalnSociety.” This museum has to be visitednto be believed.nFounded in 1804, The New YorknHistorical Society is the second oldestninstitution of its kind in the UnitednStates. It houses a distinguished researchnlibrary and the city’s oldestnmuseum. In an extraordinary exchange,nthe Society many years agongave the Brooklyn Museum some of itsnfinest Egyptian, Assyrian, and AncientnNear-Eastern antiquities. The Society,nin return, received material pertinentnto New York’s history. Over the pastn180 years, the Society has acquirednthousands of books, manuscripts,nmaps, newspapers, portraits, and othernpaintings, prints, photographs, andnartworks of historical significance fornOriginal painting of red squirrelsnfrom The Viviparous Quadrupeds ofnNorth America.nNew York. Among the national treasuresnowned by the Society is the Audubonncollection. That Audubon’s worksnare in their keeping is understandable:nwhen Audubon returned to the UnitednStates in 1839 from England, he settlednin New York City and was buriednin Manhattan in 1851.nAudubon was as demanding of othersnas he was of himself To print hisnmonumental series of plates, the greatnnaturalist chose the paper of one ofnthe most distinguished and innovativenpapermakers in Europe, JamesnWhatman. Whatman not only producedna sheet of exceptional size, ideallynsuited to Audubon’s purpose, butnwas probably the first manufacturer innEurope to produce a handmade wovenpaper. Wove paper provides a smoothnsurface pattern, while the distinctivensurface pattern of traditional laid papernmight have been aesthetically intrusive.nEstablished in 1731, the Whatmannpaper mills eventually werendubbed “Turkey Mills,” because of thenrichly colored “Turkey Red” fabricnnnonce produced there. By coincidence,none of Audubon’s most famous birds isnthe turkey, long a favorite of Americans,nespecially Benjamin Franklinnwho felt, after all, that this belovednbird, rather than the bald eagle,nshould become the national bird.nDespite Audubon’s claim to happinessn”beyond human conception,” hisnprivate affairs were miserable. In fact,nboth his fame and fortune are posthumous.nIn 1862, nearly 12 years afternAudubon’s death, his widow, LucynBakewell Audubon, offered to sell thenSociety 432 of the original 435 watercolorsnher husband had painted for thendouble “elephant folio” and later editionsnof his famous The Birds of America.nThe original edition of Audubon’snworks is called the elephant folio becausenof its physical dimensions, measuringnover three feet in length andnmore than two feet in width. The platensize virtually fills the page.nThe New York Historical Societynraised the $4,000 purchase price fornthe 432 paintings and in June of 1863nacquired what is today a priceless treasurenand one of the greatest works ofnnatural history ever produced. Then433rd watercolor in this series wasnpresented to the Society in 1966 bynMrs. Gratia R. Waters; the remainingntwo are presumed lost.nThis exhibition marked only thenthird time that the entire collectionnhas been open to public view, and thenfirst time ever that the material wasnorganized in taxonomic ordern—arranged as a modern field guidenwould be, to show the evolutionarynrelationship among the birds themselves.nThe presentation of the paintingsnin this way underscored Audubon’snstature as a naturalist as well asnan artist, worthy of the respect of thenserious ornithologist as well as thencasual bird-watcher.nAudubon was the first Americannartist to depict America’s birds, bothnlife-size and in their natural habitats.nThe significance of this groundbreakingnaccomplishment is often obscurednfor the contemporary observer accustomednto the close and detailed viewsnof wildlife afforded by today’s sophisticatednoptical equipment. Audubon’snpioneering renderings of birds in thenwild are the exclusive products of hisnkeen capacity for observation, couplednwith his extraordinary ability to cap-nDECEMBER 1985 / 45n