When I joined the New-York Historical Society as President and CEO in 2004, I had a strong recollection of the magical 2003 exhibition The Birds of Central Park, curated by Roberta J.M. Olson. I told Dr. Olson, I was so moved by the show that I wanted to hear the birds sing.
This month, we can all experience how she has made those birds sing in Audubon’s Aviary: Part 1 of The Complete Flock—literally (with recorded bird calls) and figuratively. This first exhibition in a sweeping three-part series celebrates the sesquicentennial of the acquisition of New-York Historical’s unparalleled collection of John James Audubon’s preparatory watercolors for the sumptuous double-elephant-folio print edition of The Birds of America (1827–38), engraved by Robert Havell Jr.
Over three years, Audubon’s Aviary: The Complete Flock (Parts I–III) will feature all of its 474 original avian watercolors by Audubon, including all 435 watercolor models for The Birds of America, all but one acquired by New-York Historical in 1863 from the artist’s widow Lucy Bakewell Audubon.
This once-in-a-lifetime trilogy of shows (2013–2015) gives us the unique opportunity to view these national treasures sequentially and in their entirety for the first time—the same way Audubon’s original subscribers received the Havell prints—not by taxonomy, as was the tradition, but according to Audubon’s judgments. An order he believed was more like that of nature.
I hope you will visit and explore the evolution of Audubon’s dazzling watercolors and hear them sing!
Letters from Louise Mirrer
With best regards,