The Virginia Rail, #205
Copper plate etching with aquatint and original hand-coloring
Pristine condition, archivally framed
Provence: Queen Adelaide of England consort of King William IV
Watermark: J. Whatman, Turkey Mill, 1834
26.5" x 39"

The magnificent collection of prints, which form John James Audubon’s The Birds of
1827-1838 was originally the provenance of Kings and Queens, the Aristocracy and Institutions. From 1827 to 1838 Audubon sold engravings of The Birds of America by subscription in 87 sets of 5 plates each. Twelve years were required to complete the set of 435 engravings, which sold for approximately $1,050.00, a substantial sum for that era. A complete set sold in March, 2000 for 8.8 million.

Audubon’s first subscriber to The Birds of America was King George IV of England. The second subscriber was “Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Clarence”. Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (1792-1849), was the wife of the Duke of Clarence. The Duke ruled England as King William IV from 1830 until his death in 1837. The Duchess, Princess Adelaide ruled as Queen Adelaide. Adelaide was very interested in literature and the arts throughout her life and had the great opportunity to study both pursuits, growing up in the castle Elisabethenburg, which library had more than 50,000 books. (See photos) She also loved prints and purchased the prints exhibited here directly from Audubon.

As second subscriber, as well as a person of influence and importance at the highest levels, Adelaide’s prints were very carefully engraved and hand colored under Audubon’s personal oversight.

After Adelaide’s death, her Audubon prints remained in the Saxe-Meiningen family, passing to her brother, Duke Bernhard II (1800-1882) and were housed in the library of great Schloss Elisabethenburg in Meiningen, Germany.

During World War II, these Birds of America prints, along with other family treasures were carefully placed in wooden boxes and hidden in caves under their castle. After the War the family fled their East German ancestral home. The Soviet Union confiscated their property and Prince Georg II,then the head of the Saxe-Meiningen House, died in a Soviet prison camp in 1946.

The boxed treasures of the family, including the Audubon prints, were seized by the Soviets and made ready for train transport to Moscow. A few nights before the scheduled departure, a family librarian, risking his life, uncrated the Audubon’s and secreted them away to his home. Years later, his failed attempts to ship them to family members in the West aroused the attention of the East German Secret Police. The prints were confiscated for the second time.

Only the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual demise of the Soviet Union allowed the Audubon collection its flight back to the Saxe-Meiningen family. Most of the family’s treasures remain in Moscow to this day.

Please enjoy these wonders of scientific art with their storied and famous history.

*The Saxe-Meiningen set of Audubon’s Birds of America is one of only a few copies to survive in its original unbound state, and as a result has far fewer condition problems that are endemic of bound copies: cut margins, hard creases ,over- handling creases or wear, stich-damage in the gutters, ect. Without bearing the weight of bound volumes, the plates exhibit less offsetting or show-through; they remain extremely fresh with strong impressions, crisp full plate marks and full deckle-edges.

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