This original chromolithograph is Plate 414 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 a male Smew in flight with a female in the water below, with cliffs filling the landscape behind them. Audubon procured a male specimen himself at Lake Barataria (outside of New Orleans) circa 1821 and made a drawing on the spot. Although Audubon recognized that the Smew was not an American species, he decided to include it in his Birds of America as the duck was known to make occasional (and potentially accidental) visits to the U.S. The full sheet measures 25.5 x 39.9".
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. As a result, these plates are even rarer than the first Birds of America edition.
References: Low, p. 176.
Vivid color with a few tiny, unobtrusive spots in image and very light marginal soiling. There are several expertly repaired tears all confined to the blank margins and far from image. Professionally backed in Japanese tissue.