A vividly illustrated account of John James Audubon’s struggle in England to complete his masterpiece, The Birds of America
Audubon’s Elephant was the nickname given to John James Audubon’s masterpiece, The Birds of America—an oversized folio of 435 life-size ornithological prints that remains to this day the most compelling depiction of bird life in the United States. Born in Haiti and raised in France, Audubon spent much of his adult life as a struggling American businessman on the frontier, where his obsession with birds nearly brought him to financial ruin. In 1826, his ambitious project was also in a precarious position—his folio remained unfinished, without an American publisher willing to fund it. Had Audubon not set sail for England, his artistic triumph might easily have turned into failure.
Audubon’s Elephant tells the story of the naturalist’s unlikely success in Britain as a self-exiled artist in search of the money and inspiration necessary to complete his life’s work. During twelve years spent traveling in Liverpool, Edinburgh, London, and Paris, Audubon won the interest of wealthy families, fellow artists, and the public with his eccentric brilliance and woodsman’s charisma, ultimately securing enough subscriptions to publish The Birds of America.
Duff Hart-Davis, himself a naturalist, has written a lively, highly engaging biography of Audubon’s heady and memorable days as a great American artist abroad.