John James Audubon’s The Birds of America stands as an unparalleled achievement in American art, a huge book that puts nature dramatically on the page. With that work, Audubon became one of the most adulated artists of his time, and America’s first celebrity scientist.
In this fresh approach to Audubon’s art and science, Gregory Nobles shows us that Audubon’s greatest creation was himself. A self-made man incessantly striving to secure his place in American society, Audubon made himself into a skilled painter, a successful entrepreneur, and a prolific writer, whose words went well beyond birds and scientific description. In pursuit of popular acclaim in art and science, Audubon crafted an expressive, audacious, and decidedly masculine identity as the “American Woodsman,” a larger-than-life symbol of the new nation, a role he perfected in his quest for transatlantic fame.
Nobles argues that we cannot take all of Audubon’s stories literally, but we must take them seriously. By doing so, we come to terms with the central irony of Audubon’s true nature: the man who took so much time and trouble to depict birds so accurately left us a bold but deceptive picture of himself.
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press.
“Brings ‘the American Woodsman’ back to full, vivid life, capturing the artist’s many facets as Audubon himself captured the essence of his beloved birds.” – Scott Weidensaul, author of Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding
“Compulsively readable and fascinating. Gregory Nobles’s bottom-to-top assessment of the entire tableau of Audubon lore is terrific.” – Daniel Lewis, author of The Feathery Tribe: Robert Ridgway and the Modern Study of Birds
“An elegant book that adroitly weaves together a portrait of a man of genius and an account of the cultural and economic worlds in which he worked.” – Ann Fabian, author of The Skull Collectors