Audubon, John James (1785-1851), a United States naturalist and artist, famous for his paintings of American birds. Audubon studied his subjects in their natural surroundings and also shot some and wired them into lifelike positions. His paintings are noted for striking composition and a strong feeling of action. Some naturalists, however, have complained that Audubon sometimes sacrificed naturalness of position in order to heighten dramatic effectiveness.
Audubon was born in the West Indies and educated in France, where he became interested in painting birds. When he was 18 he came to the United States. He was a partner in several unprofitable business ventures, mostly in Kentucky, and in 1819 was jailed briefly for debt. His business career ended, he began serious work on his collection of bird paintings, while his wife, Lucy Bakewell Audubon, supported the family.
Unable to find an American publisher for his work, Audubon traveled to Great Britain in 1826. There his impressive appearance and picturesque frontier dress made him a social success and persuaded a publisher to bring out a book of his paintings. (It was then impossible to reproduce paintings; the book contains hand-colored engravings by Robert Howell, Jr., based on Audubon's watercolors.) This work, Birds of America (1827-38), brought Audubon fame and prosperity. The drawings for his last major work, Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1842-45), were done with the aid of his sons.