Presentation of the Florida Rat
Presentation of the Florida Rat

JOHN JAMES AUDUBON, 1843

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Presentation of the Florida Rat
John James Audubon, 1843
AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851). [Florida Rat, Neotoma Floridana. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, 1843.] Advance proof before letters.

Proof copy of one of the first plates in Audubon's Quadrupeds, one of only 15 proofs presented by Audubon during his Missouri River expedition. Autograph inscription in the lower left margin: "Presented to James Henry Carleton of the U.S. Dragoons / Octr 9th 1843, by his friend and servant / John J, Audubon." The lithograph is additionally inscribed by Carleton in the lower right: "Presented to his own dear sister Eliza / by her affectionate brother, James Henry Carleton / Fort Scott, Mo / October 16, 1845."

Audubon met James Henry Carleton when they were both traveling down the Missouri River from Fort Croghan (present-day Council Bluffs, Iowa) to Fort Leavenworth. Carleton at the time was a young Lieutenant, having traveled West for the first time with a hundred recruits in the autumn of 1841. He served as Post Adjutant at Fort Gibson for several months, and was then detailed as an Acting Assistant Quartermaster, and, in this capacity, he and his men constructed Fort Croghan. In 1843, he was commanded to build "Mackinack Boats" and transport all the government property at Fort Croghan about 200 miles down the Missouri to Fort Leavenworth.

Audubon found himself accompanying Carleton's convoy from 10 May 1843. The old man was on his final journey into the American West, "an expedition undertaken solely for the sake of our work on the Quadrupeds of North America" (Audubon). "Carleton and Audubon frequently ate together, and they were both addicted to whist. They traded knives (this seems to have been a frontier custom). Carleton presented Audubon with a bear-skin and a set of elk horns, and Audubon, in return, gave him one of his drawings [sic]. Finally, on October 11, 1843, Audubon recorded that upon his departure from Fort Leavenworth, 'Lieutenant Carleton came to see me off, and we parted reluctantly'" (Clendenen). The Florida Rat is only the fourth plate of the 150 in the Quadrupeds. The lithographer, Bowen, was one of the last people whom Audubon visited before departing for the West in March of 1843. Possibly the drawings were delivered then, and the proofs were sent from Philadelphia to Fort Leavenworth (as one of the more accessible settlements) as soon as they were prepared. Audubon had the first 15 proofs with him on this expedition and gave all 15 away to various people who helped him along the way. It's understandable that Audubon did not want to transport the large proofs back East again; and, indeed, Carleton seems to have made a similar decision when he gifted the proof to his sister in 1845, the same year he joined Kearny's expedition. This print is a remarkable survival of fine art on the frontier. See J.J. Audubon, The Missouri River Journals, edited by Daniel Patterson, 2016; C.C. Clendenen, "General James Henry Carleton," New Mexico Historical Review 30, 1 (1955); Stamped with a National Character 37 (the Chipmunk proof with identical provenance).

Lithograph with hand-coloring on artists board, with margins. Proof before letters, without imprint or captions. Image 560 x 452 mm (705 x 557 mm sheet). (Spotting and some mat burn, some heavy dampstain along edges, upper right corner restored, all corners chipped, surface scratch in hindquarters of second-largest rat). Matted and framed. Framed by Ludwig Katzenstein in Baltimore before c. 1984. Provenance: James Henry Carleton, 1814-1873 (presentation inscription dated 1843) – Eliza [Carleton] (gift inscription from her brother James Henry dated 1845).
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This lot is accompanied by another copy of this hand-colored lithograph of the Florida Rat, an unsigned proof-before-letters.

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