Artwork of the Week: January 3

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John James Audubon (American, 1785–1851), Common American Swan

John James Audubon (American, 1785–1851), Common American Swan, aquatint, etching, and watercolor, 1838. 26 1/8 x 38 1/2 in. Hitchcock Gallery, in the special exhibition Highs & Lows: Printmaking Processes (through March 2)

Known as the Common American Swan in Audubon’s time, now called the Tundra Swan, this majestic bird is here rendered in a carefully hand-colored etching. Part of Audubon’s ambitious Birds of America—an attempt by Audubon to depict every type of bird common to the United States—the print is more than two feet high by more than three feet long. The pose of the bird is not only elegant, but necessary to achieve Audubon’s goal: he wanted to depict each bird life-size, so had to have the swan pulling its long neck back in a sinuous curve in order to fit the image on the sheet of elephant folio paper—the largest available in 1838.


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