Audubon, John Woodhouse (1812–1862)

By: Ben W. Huseman

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

John W. Audubon, wildlife and portrait painter, was born on November 30, 1812, at Meadow Brook farm, near Henderson, Kentucky, the second son of Lucy (Bakewell) and John James Audubon. He spent his youth in Kentucky, Ohio, and Louisiana, where he attended a school taught by his mother. He and his older brother, Victor Gifford Audubon, learned to draw from their father and assisted him in collecting wildlife specimens. Audubon traveled with his father to Labrador in 1833, and from 1834 until 1836 he resided with the family in England. He worked as a portrait painter and helped his father on the publication of The Birds of America (1827–38). In 1837 he accompanied his father on a trip to the Republic of Texas, where they visited Galveston and what was then the capital, Houston. In Charleston, South Carolina, Audubon married Maria Rebecca Bachman in May 1837; they had two daughters. After her death in 1840, he married Caroline Hall, on October 2, 1841; this second marriage produced seven children.

After 1839 Audubon resided in New York City, where he assisted his father by using the camera lucida to make one-half of the 500 small drawings required for the octavo edition of The Birds of America. (The senior Audubon made the others.) He also exhibited at the Apollo Association, the American Art-Union, and the National Academy. In 1845–46 he again traveled to Texas to collect specimens, notes, and sketches for one of his father's projects, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845–51). On this second Texas trip he talked again with Sam Houston and met Texas Ranger captain John Coffee Hays. Audubon eventually furnished original drawings for half of the plates in Quadrupeds, some of which were credited to his father; he again used a camera lucida to reduce the images for the octavo edition.

After a business trip to England for his father in 1846–47, Audubon joined Col. Henry Webb's California Company expedition as commissary, in 1849. From New Orleans the expedition sailed to the mouth of the Rio Grande; it headed west overland through northern Mexico and over the Gila Trail in Arizona to San Diego, California. Cholera and outlaws caused nearly half of the men to turn back, including the leader. Audubon assumed command of the remainder, which pressed on to California, although he was forced to abandon his paints and canvases in the desert. Upon returning to New York in 1850 he completed Quadrupeds and, together with his brother, continued publishing editions of their father's works after his death in January 1851, including a full-sized, chromolithograph edition of The Birds of America, which he began with Julius Bien of New York in 1858. Audubon died at his home outside New York City on February 18 or 21, 1862.

Alice Ford, John James Audubon (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964). George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564–1860 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957). Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976); Ron Tyler, Audubon's Great National Work: The Royal Octavo Edition of The Birds of America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993).
  • Visual Arts
  • Illustration

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ben W. Huseman, “Audubon, John Woodhouse,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995