This original chromolithograph is Plate 385 from the double-elephant folio Bien edition of Audubon’s great work on American ornithology. Audubon traveled throughout the U.S. and recorded 435 life-size images of every native bird in the country, depicting them in natural poses in their native habitats. This lovely engraving depicts two pairs of mallard ducks in a marshy area, with one of the females about to devour a snail. Audubon drew these mallards in Mississippi or Louisiana between 1821-25. The full sheet measures 39.5 x 26.25".
Julius Bien was among the pioneers in developing chromolithography (an early form of color printing) in the United States. The Bien edition was initiated by John Woodhouse Audubon, the younger of the two Audubon sons. Originally conceived to be a full reissue of the 435 images in 44 parts consisting of ten images each, the project was discontinued in 1860 after only 15 parts had been issued.
The provenance of this piece is quite interesting. Apparently, it was originally acquired from Lemuel and Steven Ward, famous decoy carvers from Crisfield, Maryland. The Ward brothers began their decoy business in 1926, dubbing themselves "counterfeiters in wood." Steve was the carver, and Lem was the painter; together they created what became known as the Crisfield style: broad-bodies to float naturally on open water. The legacy of the Ward brothers is now honored and preserved at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, in Salisbury Maryland.
References: Low, Susanne, p. 130 & 330.
Lovely color with a few tiny holes towards bottom center that have been professionally repaired. There are expert paper repairs in blank margins, not affecting image.