Considered one of the pioneers of wildlife art, John James Audubon was a gifted painter with a unique style and method that combined scientific accuracy with emotion. His legacy to naturalists and artists the world over is The Birds of America collection of 435 skillfully rendered paintings, of which 433 remain preserved today. Canada Post pays tribute to Audubon through a three-year series dedicated to 15 of the 33 birds Audubon painted on Canadian soil. The series will end in 2005 and includes five stamps per year. This issue includes four domestic rate ($0.48) stamps available in a pane of 16, and a self-adhesive U.S. rate ($0.65) stamp in a booklet of six.
John James Audubon (1785-1851)
John James Audubon was born in 1785 in Les Cayes in the French Colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). He lived in Les Cayes until the age of six, then moved to France for 12 years before settling in the United States. Around 1820, Audubon undertook the daunting task of painting all the birds of the United States and Canada. His Canadian works were painted during two separate journeys; a trip along the Newfoundland coast in 1831, and a sailing voyage with his son and friend in 1833 along the North Shore of the Lower St. Lawrence, the Labrador coast south of the Strait of Belle-Isle, and Newfoundland. Many of the 33 completed or almost completed watercolours Audubon painted during these two trips are considered among his best. Approximately 226 of the 435 plates that make up The Birds of America collection feature typically Canadian birds.
The Birds of America Collection
Audubon himself painted each of the birds in this collection. Due to the sheer amount of work involved, he gave the task of reproducing habitat and plant life backgrounds to several assistants, Joseph Mason, George Lehman, Lucy Audubon, Victor Audubon, and Maria Martin. The ultimate goal of Audubon's Birds project was to reproduce his paintings in engravings and sell them to subscribers in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Audubon's search for a master engraver in the United States revealed no candidates, so Audubon travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland to hire W.H. Lizars to engrave 10 copper plates from which the first etchings were pulled and later hand-painted between 1826 and 1827. Complications in Lizars' studio made Audubon hire engraver Robert Havell Sr. from London, who was assisted by his son Robert Havell Jr. Havell's studio completed the task of etching all 435 engravings by summer of 1838. Experts agree that there are approximately 120 complete prints of a potential 175 to 200 copies of The Birds of America. Four of these prints belong to public collections in Canada: Canada's Library of Parliament in Ottawa, McGill University library, Toronto Public Library, and the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly library.
2003 Audubon Birds
Featured in Canada Post's 2003 stamps are five birds native to Canada: 1) Leach's storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa, which is seen along the east and west coasts; 2) the great cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, the largest cormorant in North America; 3) brant Branta bernicla, a goose inhabiting the north; 4) the common murre Uria aalge, an outstanding diver and swimmer; 5) gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus, the official bird of the Northwest Territories and the world's largest falcon.