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Provenance

Painted for John James Audubon [1785-1851]; by descent in the Audubon family to his great-grandson, Leonard Benjamin Audubon [1888-1951], Sydney, Australia;[1] sold 1950 to E.J.L. Hallstrom [1886-1970], Sydney, Australia; gift 1951 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1951
Audubon Centennial Exhibition, National Audubon Society, New York, January-February 1951, no. 36, as The Sharp-Tailed Sparrow.
1951
Audubon Paintings and Prints from the Collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., September-October 1951, no cat.
1954
[John James Audubon exhibition for the benefit of the Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine], Kennedy Galleries, New York, 1954.
1969
Extended loan for use by the White House, Washington, D.C., 1969-1978.
1981
Extended loan for use by William J. Casey, Director, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., 1981-1987.
Bibliography
1963
Fries, Waldemar H. "Joseph Bartholomew Kidd and the Oil Paintings of Audubon's Birds of America." The Art Quarterly 26 (1963): 345.
1964
Ford, Alice. John James Audubon. Norman, Oklahoma, 1964: 443.
1970
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 164, repro., as Sharp-Tailed Sparrow.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 184, repro., as Sharp-Tailed Sparrow.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 306, as Sharp-Tailed Sparrow.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 215, repro., as Sharp-Tailed Sparrow.
1992
Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 144-145, repro. 144.
Technical Summary

The support is a commercially prepared millboard,[1] primed recto and verso with a proprietary ground of thin opaque white oil paint (on the verso the white is coated with a black layer). Infrared reflectography reveals a thin, dry, pencil underdrawing. The painting is executed in thin, opaque layers, carefully but fluidly applied, with some low impasto in the highlights and nest; there are some pentimenti in the rendering of the grasses. The craquelure in the dark brown paint of the nest and grasses is suggestive of bitumen. The painting is otherwise in good condition; losses are minimal. The thinly applied synthetic resin varnish has discolored yellow slightly.

[1] The label reads: "Rowney & Forster, artists' colourmen, 51, Rathbone Place, London," who advertised themselves as preparing "IMPROVED/Flemish Ground Mill Boards." This was the firm Audubon favored. "I wish you to try first Rowney & Forster and purchase those (the whole I mean) as low and [on] as long a credit as you can" (Audubon to Robert Havell, Jr., 18 November 1830; Howard Corning, ed., Letters of John James Audubon 1826-1840, 2 vols. [Boston, 1930], I: 124).