This original chromolithograph is Plate 395 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 handsome engraving depicts two male Canvas backed ducks, with one female at right on a rock. In the distance is the skyline of Baltimore, Maryland. Audubon wrote a letter in 1834 stating: "I did next to nothing in Baltimore…drew only a male Canvas backed Duck." 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 at the outbreak of the Civil War after only 15 parts (150 plates) had been issued.
The provenance of this piece is quite interesting. The engraving was previously owned by 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. 159.
There are a few very faint damp stains and a professionally repaired 2" tear in the water near Baltimore. Remargined at top with a small amount of the plate number in facsimile, and Bien's imprint at bottom right has also been replaced in facsimile. There are expert paper repairs in blank margins, not affecting image.