John James Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785. He was the illegitimate son of Jean Audubon, a French merchant and sea captain, and Jeanne Rabine, a chambermaid who died in a slave uprising shortly after his birth. Raised lovingly by his stepmother and father in the French countryside around Nantes, he developed a love of wildlife, especially birds, and of sketching.
At age 18, Audubon was sent to Pennsylvania to avoid conscription in Napolean's army and to manage family farm property at Mill Grove near Philadelphia. Lucy Bakewell became his wife in 1808. Her unwavering support, through difficult financial and personal circumstances, proved critical to Audubon's ultimate success as an artist and naturalist.
At age 35, Audubon embarked on The Birds of America, producing 435 hand-colored engravings and publishing double elephant folios (1828-1838), followed by a smaller, octavo-sized, version. While initiating the engraving process for The Birds of America, through Robert Havell, Jr. of London, Audubon lived in Europe (1827-1829). In Edinburgh, London, and Paris, he was elected to learned and scientific honorary societies, and his work was acclaimed in superlatives. He developed a noble and royal patronage, and a host of subscribers.
In 1840, he undertook publication of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. By the time Audubon and his four assistants embarked on their journey up the Missouri River, in 1843, to collect information and images of western mammals, he had drawn 61 species. Although this expedition proved scientifically disappointing to John Bachman, 150 hand-colored lithographs were published in both an imperial folio size (1845-1848) and a smaller octavo edition (1846-1853). Audubon died in 1851, with plates for the Quadrupeds, but not all of the text, completed.