FOUND: The Holy Quail

August 1, 2010

This recently discovered running grouse is the first published print by Audubon

Researchers in PHILADELPHIA have found the first published illustration by John James Audubon, America’s most famous bird artist, after a decades long search for this prized but elusive work.

“It’s the holy grail of Audubon scholarship,” said Robert Peck. “It’s significant because it was at a significant turning point in his life.”

Audubon had made references to the illustration in his diaries, but it had never been seen until it was found on a sheet of sample images produced in 1824 by a New Jersey engraver who specialized in illustrations for banknotes.

A numismatic, or currency, historian  named Eric Newman along with Peck, who is a senior fellow with Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences and has spent the last decade looking for this long-lost image, were the discoverers of the print.

Its existence had been placed in doubt, including suggestions that Audubon may have lied about it to enhance his reputation before the publication of his masterwork “Birds of America,” starting in 1827.

Although unsigned, the image clearly belongs to Audubon with such details as the bird’s grassy habitat and other characteristic ornithological observations in the engraving.

So this is indeed the holy quail of  Audubon scholarship.


This year’s SGC conference in Philadelphia took place alongside the international print triennial Philagrafika, which consisted of several exhibitions all around the town of exceptional quality. The SGC’s array of printmaking related demos, venders fair and a variety of curated print portfolios presented at the participating art schools around town; University of the Arts, Tyler School of Art at Temple and the Philadelphia Academy of the Arts (PAFA),  created an energetic synergy between the well attended conference and the international festival.

Artist Francesc Ruiz in The Graphic Unconscious

Philadelphia’s art schools can boast having some of the best print making facilities in the country it seems, each school offering unique enhancements for the student of printmaking from traditional to digital to letterpress facilities and faculty.

Upcoming Southern Graphics Conferences will be in Saint Louis in 2011 and Southern California in 2012!

For more photos from SGC Philadelphia 2010, check out the FlickR set posted here