Fuertes Birds of New York
Research & Collections :: Collections at the State Museum :: Biology
Birds of New York: Paintings by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

barn_owl_long_eared_owl
Barn Owl and Long-
eared Owl

Housed in the historical archives in the Cultural Education Center are a series of bird paintings by Louis Agassiz Fuertes done for Birds of New York by Elon Howard Eaton in 1910 (vol.1) and 1914 (vol.2). Although there are 106 plates in Birds of New York, there are 118 original paintings. These are an important part of New York State's heritage not only because they were accomplished by a lifelong resident of New York, but because historically, he is considered one of the world's greatest bird artists.

Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), was born and worked most of his life in Ithaca, NY. By the time he was eight he was already deeply interested in observing and drawing birds. An important part of his inspiration came from the work of John James Audubon whose Birds of America he pored over at the Ithaca Public Library. By the time he graduated from Cornell University, he had already begun publishing his illustrations. His first commission was from Elliott Coues of the Smithsonian Institution, leading ornithologist of the day. This quickly launched him into a very active career. He became the first person to make a successful living exclusively as bird artist. Just as Audubon influenced every bird painter since the early 1800s by "drawing from life," Fuertes added to the tradition by presenting birds not only accurately, but also capturing their natural and behavioral characteristics. The extent of his influence is summed up by Roger Tory Peterson, the most famous and influential bird artist of more recent times. "We can accurately say that there is a 'Fuertes School' of bird painting even to this day, more than four decades after his death. Nearly all American bird artists have been influenced to some extent by the bird portraiture of Fuertes."

Much like Audubon in the early 1800s and Peterson in our own times, Fuertes had extensive knowledge of the natural history of birds. He participated in many foreign and domestic scientific expeditions, including trips to Jamaica, Colombia and other parts of South America, Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia), Magdelene Islands, and Alaska. In addition to thousands of field sketches (representing 400 species of birds) and illustrations that appeared in every major book on birds between 1896-1927, he contributed 3,500 specimen skins to science that are now at Cornell University.

Further reading:

Bell, R. Ways of drawing birds. Running, Philadelphia. 1994.
Bryndildson & Hagge. Birds in art. Smithmark, New York. 1995.
Jackson, C. Dictionary of bird painters of the world. Antique Collector's Club, Wappingers Falls, NY. 1996.
Lambourne, M. The art of bird illustration: A visual tribute to the lives and achievements of bird illustrators. Wellfleet, Edison, NJ. 1990.
Lysaght, A.M. The book of birds: five centuries of bird illustration. The Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Cambridge, MA. 1989.
Mohrhardt, D. How to paint song birds:A guide to paint, tools and techniques. Stackpole, Mechanicsburg, PA. 1989.
Norelli, M. R. American Wildlife Painting: Fuertes, Audubon, Heade, Wilson, Thayer, Catesby, Galahad. 1975.
Peck, R. M. A Celebration of Birds: The Life and Art of Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Academy of Natural Science of Philadelphia, Walker Co., New York. 1976.
Proctor, N.S. & P. Lynch. The manual of ornithology: avian structure and function. Yale Univ., New Haven, CT. 1993.
Rayfield, S. Painting birds. Watson-Guptill, New York.
Rulon, B. Painting birds step by step. North Light, Cincinnati. 1996.
Scheffel, R.L. Bird art in science: The growth of a tradition. The Univ. of the State of NY, the State Ed. Dept., Education Leaflet #16, Albany, New York. 1964.

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