STL Science Center

STL Science Center

26 August 2016

Icons of Extinction

©John James Audubon
When the subject of North American bird illustrations is approached there are a small number of extremely well known artists that automatically come to mind. Great Auks have been painted and sketched by a wide range of artists, but it is one of few, relatively speaking, North American birds that has been well portrayed by the two most prolific of artists in the history of ornithology. John James Audubon, despite a little controversy during and after his lifetime because of the models and species he painted that may have been dubious, and John Gould were both highly industrious and as accurate as possible. It is well known that Audubon used taxidermy specimens when he could and may have never seen the Great Auk when it was alive. Gould, on the other hand, hob-nobbed and gallivanted across the globe speaking with naturalists and watching and observing birds. Taking his wife on these journeys as an assistant artist, Gould sailed with Darwin to the Galapagos and FitzRoy and Gilbert in the south. Gould was alive during the time of the Great Auk (Audubon was as well) and may have seen them in their natural habitat (Audubon may have also, but he had a tendency to stay at home to paint). Perhaps at some point we can look at Gould's true passion, hummingbirds, but for now enjoy his version of the Great Auk.
© John Gould

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