John James Audubon was born April 26, 1785 in Les Cayes, Haiti and died January 27, 1851 in Manhattan, New York City, NY. For 50 years he was young America’s dominant wildlife artist. His seminal Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size prints, is still a standard against which 20th and 21st century bird artists, such as Roger Tory Peterson and David Sibley, are measured.
His mother was Creole, she died soon after his birth. He was an illegitimate child meaning his parents were not married. His father made his fortune as a merchant, planter, and dealer of slaves. James was tutored as a child on mathematics, geography, drawing, music, and fencing. He had no interest in such things and like many of us reading this article would rather be outside fishing, hunting or exploring nature. He became rebellious, so his father sent him away to America to live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on their farm. Here is where Audubon built his affinity for nature.
In 1824 Audubon went to Philadelphia to seek a publisher. He met with opposition, however, from the friends of Alexander Wilson (1766–1813), the other major American ornithologist with whom Audubon had begun a bitter rivalry in 1810. He finally decided to raise the money for a trip to Europe, where he felt he would find greater interest in his drawings. Audubon finally reached an agreement with a London publisher, and in 1827 volumes of Birds of America began to appear. It took eleven years in all for the publication and reprintings of all the volumes.
The success of Audubon's bird drawings brought him immediate fame, and by 1831 he was considered the leading naturalist of his country, even though he possessed no formal scientific training. Audubon had succeeded in giving the world the first great collection of American birds, drawn in their natural habitats as close to nature as possible.