John James Audubon worked along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, catching birds in the morning to paint before last light. He has depicted the osprey in the moment of victory, its prey secure in its piercing talons.
The fish hawk radiates a fierce vitality, but it was dead. Audubon was both a hunter and a naturalist; he shot his subjects and strung them up in animated positions to be painted, using an ingenious system of wires. Many people at that time believed that nature's resources were limitless and that it was humanity's right to exploit their abundance for financial, artistic or scientific gain.
This image (Plate 18) was published life-size in Audubon's first edition magisterial "The birds of America", where the scale and the subtle tones of aquatint etching emphasised both the perils and vigour of nature.