AUDUBON by Shirley Streshinsky


Life and Art in the American Wilderness
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 Fiction writer Streshinsky (The Shores of Paradise, 1991, etc.) brings her storytelling skills to bear on this accomplished biography of the famous painter of birds. Audubon (1778-1851), a prolific letter-writer and journal- keeper, left an enormous paper trail; although much of it was destroyed by a protective granddaughter, the remaining papers are rich in detail. Drawing on them, Streshinsky tell us that the artist emigrated to America from France in 1803 at the age of 18 and promptly fell in love with both the American wilderness and Lucy Bakewell, his future wife. By the early 1820's, as a failed businessman but expert woodsman, naturalist, and artist, he launched his plan to publish a book illustrating all the birds of America. He roamed the wilderness for several years and, by 1826, had sufficient paintings to go to England in search of a publisher. Audubon traveled through England, Scotland, and France, selling subscriptions to the proposed book, working with the engravers and colorists who reproduced his paintings, and painting furiously. Publication of The Birds of America and his Ornithological Biography brought him recognition and a measure of financial security, though he died before completing the illustrations for The Quadrupeds of America. Streshinsky quotes liberally from Audubon's writings, especially from his journals of the 1820's, when he was separated from his family. The picture that emerges is of a charming, hard-working, sometimes vain and petulant man with a intense love of nature. Surprising to many will be his letters from England begging that newly discovered birds be preserved in whiskey and shipped across the Atlantic to him. A well-modulated biography filled with details of frontier America, 19th-century publishing, scientific and artistic rivalries, and the striking differences between the cultures of the Old and New Worlds. (Sixteen pages of photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-40859-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993


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