Photo with 21 notes
Detail of Plate 58 of The Birds of America by John Audubon, the Hermit Thrush. This is the quintessential ’little brown bird’ that nobody’s interested in, but just look at it for a few seconds. If anyone ever questions Audubon’s genius this is the plate to show them- precisely because the bird isn’t showy or exotic, yet it still looks like it’s about to fly off the page. Like all Audubon’s paintings it was done as a scientific illustration, not a work of art, but as a scientific illustration it isn’t perfect. It suffers from what I call the ‘stuffed bird syndrome’ Audubon occasionally succumbed to. (Audubon often painted from stuffed specimens.) It’s too skinny- looking a bit like a preserved skin on an armature- Audubon carrying his realism a step too far. Living Hermit Thrushes tend to look a bit fuller. But even if it’s lacking somewhat as science, and ‘lacking’ is a subjective term used in hindsight; it was better than anything that had come before by a long way. It’s still a sublime painting. This is Audubon transcending even his own intentions in his art.