AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851), after - Joseph Bartholomew KIDD (1808-1889)
Republican Cliff Swallow
Edinburgh: 1831. Oil on millboard, R. Davy label on verso. Approximately 18 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches. Framed.
An important original oil painting from the Audubon/Kidd collaboration.
In 1827, while in Edinburgh supervising the engraving of the first part of the double-elephant folio Birds of America , John James Audubon met a young landscape artist named Joseph Bartholomew Kidd, whom the engraver Lizars had employed to more artistically finish the sky in the background behind one of Audubon's birds. Audubon would write in his journal on 1 March 1827 of Kidd: "I admired him for his talents at so early a period of his life, he being only nineteen. What would I have been now if equally gifted by nature at that age?" In the winter of 1831, Audubon would commission Kidd to copy some of his watercolours in oil and paint in the backgrounds, with the intention of holding an exhibition of the oils, selling the paintings and dividing the proceeds. In July 1831, Audubon sent to Kidd 67 drawings "to be painting in oil by him for one pound each."
A notice in an 1832 issue of the Caldedonian Mercury details the plan: "About a year ago Audubon conceived the grand idea of a Natural History Gallery of Paintings, and entered into an agreement with Mr. Kidd to copy all his drawings of the same size, and in oil, leaving to the taste of that excellent artist to add such backgrounds as might give them a more pictorial effect. In the execution of such of these as Mr. Kidd has finished, he has not only preserved all the vivacious character of the originals, but he has greatly heightened their beauty, by the general tone and appropriate feeling which he has preserved and carried throughout his pictures."
Although Audubon had intended to have Kidd reproduce all his drawings in oil for the exhibition, the project was never completed. Kidd was among those at the sale of Lord Elgin's pictures in March 1833 when the floor gave way. Kidd's injuries seem to have prevented him from his work and engendered a financial dispute with Audubon. By December of that year, Audubon advised his son Victor to "take all the pictures from him by goodwill or otherwise and give him no more originals to copy."
Kidd delivered to Audubon 94 paintings in all; approximately 60 are extant, including those in the collections at Harvard, the American Museum of Natural History, Princeton, the National Gallery, Yale, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and others.
This Audubon image depicts a male (bottom) and female (top) Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) among a cluster of nests, one with a young bird peeking its head out, affixed to a rocky outcrop. The image would appear in the Havell edition in 1829 as plate 68, based on a watercolour by Audubon accomplished in Cincinnati in 1820. See Audubon's Ornithological Biography I:pp. 353-357 for his description of the bird and their curious nests and his encounter with them near New Port, Kentucky.
As usual with the Audubon/Kidd oils, the work is unsigned and undated. This painting remained in the possession of the Audubon family until 1863, when Lucy Audubon (the daughter of J.W. Audubon and Maria Bachman) gave it to her grandson Mark F. Zinck, whose signature is on the verso of the board.
Fries, The Double Elephant Folio: The Story of Audubon's Birds of America (Chicago: 1973), pp. 360-367.