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Exhibition National Museum of Scotland

Audubon’s Birds of America

12 Feb - 8 May 2022

Exhibition Gallery 1, Level 3

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Learn about the making of Birds of America, one of the world’s rarest and most coveted books, in this once-in-a-generation exhibition.

National Museums Scotland Members and Patrons are invited to an exclusive preview day on 11 February 2022, before the exhibition opens to the public. Book now.

Around 1820, naturalist John James Audubon declared his intention to paint every bird species in North America. The result of this ambition was Birds of America, published between 1827 and 1838, and featuring 435 life-size, hand-coloured prints. The book’s large size (almost 1m high) and its publication as a series of folios has resulted in very few complete volumes remaining to this day.

Illustration of an eagle.

Great American Eagle from Birds of America, by John James Audubon.

Illustration of snowy owls.

Snowy owl from Birds of America, by John James Audubon.

Audubon was and is a controversial figure. Many of his practises were criticised by the naturalist community and he profited from the ownership of enslaved people during his lifetime. However, the book itself stands as a reminder of the beauty and fragility of our natural environment, featuring paintings of at least five now-extinct birds. The exhibition will consider both Audubon’s complex and problematic story, as well as the conservation lessons we can learn from his unprecedented publication.

Discover Edinburgh's integral role in the development of the book and explore the publication’s technical achievement and artistic legacy. See a bound copy of Birds of America on display alongside 46 original, unbound prints from National Museums Scotland's Library collection, plus rare books, letters, ephemera and taxidermy specimens showing the accurate life-size rendering of Audubon’s paintings.

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Getting here

Plan your visit to National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street

Map and directions


We want everyone who comes to our museums to enjoy their time with us and make the most of their visit. 

  • There is level access to the Museum via the main doors to the Entrance Hall on Chambers Street and the Tower entrance at the corner of Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. 
  • Lifts are available to all floors and accessible toilets are available on most floors, as well as a Changing Places (U) toilet in the Entrance Hall on Level 0.
  • There is an induction loop in the Auditorium.
  • Guide dogs, hearing dogs and other recognised assistance dogs are admitted.

Find out more about our access information.

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