Audubon’s Aviary Opens at the New-York Historical Society

The third and final installment of The Complete Flock series opens March 6.

John James Audubon is back for a Spring engagement at the New-York Historical Society. The society’s third installment of The Complete Flock opens March 6, showcasing an aviary in watercolor—Green Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, a White Egret, and more than 180 other species depicted in this collection of masterworks.

Since beginning in 2013, Flock has displayed the naturalist’s work, which was given to the society in the 19th century by Audubon’s widow, Lucy Bakewell Audubon. This last chapter, Final Flight, represents the final third of the 435 prints Mrs. Audubon sold to the New-York Historical Society in 1863. (The sale came with a little surprise: A small bundle of Mr. Audubon’s whiskers and a lock of grayed hair.)

When walking through the aviary, you'll notice immediately that the birds are sorted not by taxonomy, or relatedness, like most ornithological galleries, but in groups of five Audubon called “fascicles.” According to the Historical Society’s Curator of Drawings, Roberta Olson, the arrangement had less to do with accurately depicting nature than with creating categories that Audubon found aesthetically pleasing. Each fascicle merges small songbirds like the Bullock's Oriole, for example, with one medium and one large bird, like the American Flamingo.

His Magenta Flamingo print in particular, Olson says, “is a national treasure.” Olson is a spirited Audubon enthusiast herself; she believes his brilliance in both the arts and sciences should grant him a similar status as da Vinci. “I always like to call him the American Leonardo,” she says.

Audubon’s Aviary: The Final Flight opens today, March 6, and will be on display until May 10 at the New-York Historical Society. Admission to the museum is $19 for adults and $12 for students. Fridays 6 to 8 P.M. are pay-as-you-wish.

Editor's Note: See the complete online collection of  John J. Audubon's Birds of America.