In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: John James Audubon’s “Purple Grackle, Plate VII.”
As children we often found ourselves searching for and collecting hidden treasures of nature. Eggs, feathers, nests, bones, and snakeskins were all celebrated items of discovery. As a youth, John James Audubon (1785–1851) was no different. Audubon would spend his afternoons wading through the woods and fields near his home in Santo Domingo (now Haiti) with the hopes of a new discovery to proudly display in his room. This early appreciation and love for nature was eventually combined with immense artistic talent as a young man and adult, which resulted in one of the most beloved and famous books in the world: The Birds of America. A masterwork of 435 images of virtually all known American species, The Birds of America is a testament to Audubon’s lifelong mission to capture and possess nature.
Audubon’s lineage is a subject of debate, but scholars generally agree that he was the illegitimate son of a French merchant and planter and a Creole woman of Santo Domingo. After he turned 18, Audubon fled to America to avoid conscription into Napoleon’s army and enter into business. Travelling up and down the Eastern seaboard, Audubon began his cataloging and study of birds. After Audubon’s attempts to publish his studies were met with rejection in America, he traveled to England in 1826 in search of patrons and publishers.
Audubon was warmly received in Edinburgh and London, where the engraver Robert Havell undertook publication of The Birds of America. Audubon divided his time between Europe and the United States as his reputation and fame grew. By the 1840s and with his vision failing, Audubon settled in New York, where his sons, John Woodhouse Audubon (1812–1862) and Victor Gifford Audubon (1809–1860), assumed most of the production responsibilities for his later books. John James Audubon died on January 27, 1851 in Manhattan, likely from Alzheimer’s disease.
Millions of reproductions of the original plates from The Birds of America exist in homes across the world today, but on July 25 buyers will have a chance to own an original. The Coeur d’Alene Art Auction is featuring — among a number of beautiful Western-themed oil paintings and sculptures — Audubon’s “Purple Grackle,” a stunning example of the artist’s faithfulness to nature and penchant for drama. As was typical for his representations, Audubon displays both the male and female purple grackle. Both sit perched on stalks of corn. The male is noticeable for his colorful head, a deep blue hue with a slight sheen. Audubon has positioned the male and female differently as a means to show both the profile and top views, aiding in identification. Every detail, from the individual feathers to the kernels of corn and beyond has been meticulously observed and represented.
The engraving, produced by Audubon’s English affiliates W.H. Lizars and R. Havell, dates to 1829 and has an auction estimate of $5,000–$7,000. “Purple Grackle, Plate VII” will feature in the July 25 auction at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada.
To view the full catalogue, visit The Coeur d’Alene Art Auction.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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