Artist Naturalist

Historical Marker #1523 in Henderson County remembers John James Audubon, who is best known for his paintings of nature, especially birds, and his publication, "Birds of America." Audubon traveled across the country in his attempt to study and compile records of all North American birds, but some of his greatest advancements in ornithology occurred while roaming the Kentucky wilderness in Henderson County.

Born in 1785 in present-day Haiti and raised in France, Audubon's love affair with nature began when he just a boy. He first came to Kentucky in 1807 when he and a business partner opened a general store in Louisville. An 1810 visit to his Louisville shop from the nation's top ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, inspired Audubon to pursue his life's passion when he and his partner moved their business 125 miles down the Ohio River to Henderson. Audubon spent weeks at a time exploring the wilderness of his new home. It was there that Audubon's quantity and quality of artwork grew substantially, as did his knowledge of birds.

Unfortunately, a series of financial failures forced Audubon and his family out of Henderson in 1819. A year later, he boarded a boat headed to New Orleans in an attempt to complete his collection of North American birds, funding the journey by painting portraits.

In 1826, Audubon set out to find a publisher for his huge collection of birds and nature. His journey took him back to Europe where an Englishman agreed to publish what would become "Birds of America." The book firmly established Audubon as one of the greatest ornithologists in the world. The book contained 435 engravings of 1,065 birds from 489 species, many of them from the woods of Henderson, drawn during his nine years there.

Speaking to the continued renown of Audubon’s work, in 2000, a complete four-volume set of the original "Birds of America" sold in New York for $8,802,500, setting a world auction record for a printed book.

Images

John James Audubon

John James Audubon

Naturalist, artist, and painter John James Audubon moved to Henderson, Kentucky in 1810. He is best known for his collection of bird illustrations in his book Birds of America. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

John James Audubon State Park

John James Audubon State Park

The state park named in memory of Audubon in Henderson has a museum (pictured), gift shop, and campground among its attractions. The museum contains paintings, family heirlooms, and several original engravings from Birds of America. Courtesy of the University of Kentucky. View File Details Page

White-Headed Eagle

White-Headed Eagle

John James Audubon is world renowned for his paintings of birds, including this white-headed eagle. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

American Flamingo

American Flamingo

Painting by ornithologist John James Audubon. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

McKenzie Martin, “Artist Naturalist,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed June 24, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/391.
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