Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America: A Great National Work

The work for which naturalist and painter, John James Audubon is best known, The Birds of America, included 435 ornithological plates and was completed over 18 years, from 1820 to 1838. Many people are unaware that Audubon’s second major venture was The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, a work about four-footed mammals. As a lifetime achievement, his double elephant folio of birds was certainly a major one, but Audubon was not content to rest on this singular accomplishment. Even before completing The Birds, he had begun his next, and what would become his final, ambitious project – to document mammalian wildlife in The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. His endeavor to complete the portfolio of 150 hand-colored lithographic plates took him from 1839 to 1849. The accompanying three volumes of text were not finished until 1854, three years after Audubon (1785-1851) passed away. Sons John Woodhouse and Victor Gifford Audubon and friend Rev. John Bachman completed the great work. When finally finished, Audubon was credited with another artistically stunning and scientifically significant contribution to our understanding of American natural history. What distinguishes Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America from his Birds of America is that this was the first work of its magnitude to be engraved, printed and colored wholly in the United States, whereas Audubon’s Birds was produced in the United Kingdom.