AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851)
Common American Wild Cat. Male. [Pl. 1]
New York: J. J. Audubon, 1842. Lithograph, coloured by hand, by J.T. Bowen of Philadelphia. Sheet size: 21 x 27 inches.
A fine image of the American Wildcat: one of the best images from the greatest illustrated natural history work to be produced in America during the nineteenth century.
This very fine plate is from the Imperial folio edition of John James Audubon's The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, produced entirely in the United States. This was the first plate and reflects Audubon's unerring sense of the dramatic. This is the Wildcat as he is encountered: fierce, ready to attack and quite beautiful. This first plate also demonstrates as aspect of the work not often acknowledged. Audubon was persuaded to produce the prints via lithography rather than engraving (as the Birds of America had been) by John Bowen, who guaranteed that the fur of the animals depicted would be as fine as they would have been had they been engraved. Clearly, Bowen proved his point in this splendid image.
The production of the Quadrupeds was begun by John James Audubon and his sons at about the same time as the commercially-successful octavo edition of The Birds of America. Unlike the double-elephant folio, the Quadrupeds was produced entirely in the United States. William Reese notes that "By 1843 the Audubon family business was a well-oiled machine, involving John James, his two sons,... and various in-laws and friends. The octavo Birds was still in production when J.T. Bowen began to produce the plates for the elephant folio edition of the Quadrupeds, the largest successful color plate book project of 19th-century America. It took the family five years to publish 150 plates in thirty parts. The massive project was a commercial success, thanks to the close management of Victor. There were about three hundred subscribers." (Stamped with a National Character pp.58-59).
Cf. Bennett, p. 5; cf. Reese, Stamped With A National Character 36; cf. Sabin 2367; cf. Wood, p. 209.