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Birds of America

Kate Torney reveals the fascinating story of how the hard-bargaining first Library president, Sir Redmond Barry, acquired one of our most valuable books: John James Audubon's 19th-century masterpiece, The birds of America.

The birds of America is one of the finest colour-plate works on ornithology ever produced. It's also one of the greatest works of book art.

Using freshly killed specimens that were wired into lifelike positions, Audubon created the first illustrations of birds that looked as if they were alive.

His life-size paintings were transferred to copperplates, printed and then painstakingly hand-coloured by a team of artists. A complete edition comprises 435 double-elephant folio plates, issued in 87 parts over 11 years.

And as this video reveals, each painting is so intricately rendered that every tendon in a talon and each plume of a feather comes to life. 

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About Access All Areas

In this video series, join CEO Kate Torney for exclusive insights into her most cherished collection items, spaces (including some that even staff can't access!), legends and legacies at State Library Victoria.

Find out more and view all episodes of Access All Areas.