University of Pittsburgh
November 7, 2013

University of Pittsburgh Hosts Annual Audubon Day Nov. 22

Original prints from John James Audubon’s Birds of America on display; Audubon expert to give presentation

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

High resolution image(s) available >

PITTSBURGH—More than two dozen original prints from John James Audubon’s Birds of America will be on display at the University of Pittsburgh from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Nov. 22, as the University Library System hosts its annual Audubon Day.

Snowy Owl by John James Audubon

The free exhibition, comprising the famous vivid life-size paintings of many North American birds, will be in the Special Collections Reading Room, Room 363, Hillman Library, 3960 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 

Joel Oppenheimer, president of his namesake galleries in Chicago and Charleston, S.C., and one of the world’s foremost Audubon experts, will deliver a presentation titled “Audubon’s Art and the Published Editions from the Nineteenth Century to the Present” from 10 a.m. to noon in the Amy Knapp Room on Hillman’s ground floor. 

Most people are familiar with the work of John James Audubon (1785-1851) because they have seen his paintings of birds on greeting cards, calendars, and other publications. His four-volume set of bird illustrations, Birds of America (1827-1838), revolutionized bird illustration because it depicted birds as life-sized in their natural environment, many of them interacting with other birds and wildlife, often in violent, predatory ways. 

Audubon eventually stopped at 435 paintings after he exhausted his personal resources. He sold the hand-colored plates subsequently engraved from the paintings in a subscription series in England, Europe, and North America. Original subscribers received five plates at a time (one large bird, one medium bird, three small birds) over a period between 1827 and 1838, at a cost totaling about $1,000.  

A complete set of the Birds of America prints was sometimes bound in four volumes. Each set contained 435 prints on 27 by 40 inch paper. Through the years, however, many volumes were disbound so that prints could be sold individually to collectors. Of the 175 complete sets printed, approximately 120 still exist in unbroken sets. Pitt’s Library System owns one of these as part of the Darlington Memorial Library, works donated to Pitt in 1918 and 1925 by the daughters of William McCullough Darlington and Mary Carson Darlington of Pittsburgh. 

“Audubon’s double-elephant-folio edition of Birds of America (1827-1838) is, without exaggeration, one of America’s national treasures,” said Charles Aston, the Library System’s curator of rare books, prints, and exhibits. “The University of Pittsburgh is truly fortunate to own this scarce, magnificent, artistic, and scientific work, created by a self-taught French immigrant who came to love the American wilderness and its wildlife.”

The prints were too fragile to share with the public until conservation efforts began in 2002. Following the Library of Congress preservation model, the volumes were disbound, and each print was examined, documented, treated, and housed in an archival folder. In 2007, Pitt’s Digital Research Library digitized all 435 plates, enabling users to view portions of the plates at their actual size. Visit to view the images.



Snowy Owl by John James Audubon

American Flamingo by John James Audubon

Blackwinged Hawk by John James Audubon