On the Writing Desk Today: AMAZING RARE THINGS by David Attenborough

The only hardcover self allowed herself to bring home from London last year: David Attenborough’s Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery.

She bought it from the London Review Bookshop in June 2017 and only now, almost a year later, in Mendocino, is she able to give it a focused reading.

Figure 22: The American Flamingo by John James Audubon

DSCN0782

Fig. 22 in the book AMAZING RARE THINGS, by David Attenborough

This is an amazing work by Audubon. Attenborough writes:

Audubon, who from the age of eighteen lived in Pennsylvania where he looked after family property, was obsessed by birds. His quest for them led him to travel ever westwards in search of new species. He hunted them with an unquenchable passion and he drew them with equal enthusiasm.

His biggest inspiration was to draw birds in motion. The next part is a little gross but anyhoo, Leonardo da Vinci did similar things to study animal anatomy. Da Vinci of course did not SHOOT animals, but he dissected as many as he could lay his hands on.

Audubon would shoot (shoot as in: kill) his subjects, then take the freshly killed bird back home, where he’d fix them on a board with a pre-drawn square grid. Then he’d manipulate “the bird’s wings and neck into what he considered life-like attitudes” and fix “them in position with skewers. The process must have been a fairly blood-spattered one . . . ”

Several years ago, self had occasion to visit Pasadena, and she dropped by the Huntington Library, where on exhibit were Audubon’s magnificent double elephant folio. Jaw-dropping. Amazing. An American National Treasure. Self knew Audubon was a painter of birds, but until she saw the elephant folio, she had no idea of the magnitude of his vision.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

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