Installation view, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, MCA Chicago, 2016. Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Cover of The Original Water-Color Paintings by John James Audubon for The Birds of America
In its initial form, The Birds of America consisted of 435 life-size watercolors, mostly made by Audubon, of North American birds. Now considered foundational within the fields of naturalism and ecology, the volume combines Audubon’s artistic acumen with his love of nature and interest in typology. It has been reprinted and circulated widely since the nineteenth century.
John James Audubon, Virginian Partridge, from The Birds of America, 1827–1838.
There are conflicting narratives around Audubon’s biography. He was born Jean Rabin in Haiti in 1785 to a French plantation owner and, as one narrative insists, to a white mother, or, as other biographers have conjectured, to a chambermaid of mixed racial descent. Either way, Audubon emigrated to the United States at age eighteen and reinvented himself with a new name, obscuring both his foreign and, potentially, his biracial heritage.
Jules Lion, Portrait of John James Audubon. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Kerry James Marshall’s studio, 2020
Kerry James Marshall’s studio, featuring birdhouse models referenced for Black and part Black: Birds in America, 2020
Kerry James Marshall, 2016. Photo by Lyndon French