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 Louis Agassiz Fuertes  (1874 - 1927)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: birds, landscape, illustrator, mural

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Louis Agassiz Fuertes
from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Louis Agassiz Fuertes (February 7, 1874 Ithaca, New York - August 22, 1927 Unadilla) was an American ornithologist, illustrator and artist. He set new standards for ornithological art and is considered as one of the most prolific American bird artists after John James Audubon. He made thousands of bird paintings and sketches, based on studies in nature and details from fresh specimens, that illustrate a range of ornithological works. He died in a car accident near New York, shortly after returning from an expedition to Abyssinia. His name is commemorated in two species. One, a species described by Frank Chapman as Icterus fuertesi although now considered a subspecies of the Orchard Oriole. The other, Fuertes's Parrot, or Hapalopsittaca fuertesi, was rediscovered in 2002 after 91 years of presumed extinction. He influenced several other wildlife artists after him, apart from mentoring George Miksch Sutton. The Wilson Ornithological Society instituted an award in his memory in 1947.

Fuertes was born in Ithaca, New York, and was the son of Estevan and Mary Stone Perry Fuertes. His father came from a prominent Spanish family in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was a professor of civil engineering at Cornell University and for sometime dean of civil engineering. Estevan named his son after the Swiss-born American naturalist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873). Fuertes's mother, born in Troy, was of Dutch ancestry. Young Louis became interested in birds at very early age, securing birds with a slingshot and examining them carefully. As a child he had been influenced by Audubon's Birds of America.

At the age of fourteen, he made his first painting of a bird, a male Red Crossbill, from life. He learned to keep careful records of the appearance, habits and voices of birds. In 1890 he sent a specimen that he collected to the Smithsonian and received comments on its rarity, and in 1891, when Louis was 17, he became an Associate Member of the American Ornithologists' Union. He was encouraged by his father's colleagues at the university including Burt G. Wilder and Liberty H. Bailey. In June 1892, he accompanied his parents to Europe and sketched birds and animals at the Jardin de Plantes in Paris. In September he joined the Institute of Keller, a school in Zurich, staying on for a year. Returning to America, he enrolled in Cornell in 1893, choosing to study architecture. His older brother James, however, found that Louis lacked an aptitude for geometry and mathematics and simply fell asleep when James tried to coach him. During one lecture, Louis went out a classroom window and climbed a tree to investigate a strange bird call.

His interest in singing led him to join the Cornell University Glee Club. In 1894, the Glee Club went on a tour to Washington, D.C., where another member of the club suggested that Louis meet his uncle Elliott Coues, who was interested in birds. This meeting was a turning point, as Coues recognized Fuertes's talent and spread the word about his work. In 1895 Coues exhibited fifty of Fuertes's works at the Congress of the American Ornithologists' Union at Washington, a meeting that Louis was unable to attend. He received the first of his many commissions for illustrating birds while still an undergraduate. At Cornell, he was elected to the Sphinx Head Society, the oldest senior honor society at the University. In 1896 Coues invited Fuertes to attend the Ornithological Congress at Cambridge in England. He graduated from Cornell in 1897 and decided to work with Abbott H. Thayer. In 1898, he made his first expedition, with Thayer and his son Gerald, to Florida.

In 1899, Fuertes accompanied E. H. Harriman on his famous exploration of the Alaska coastline, the Harriman Alaska Expedition. Fuertes later traveled across much of the United States and to many countries in pursuit of birds, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Ethiopia. Fuertes collaborated with Frank Chapman, curator of the American Museum of Natural History, on many assignments including field research, background dioramas at the museum, and book illustrations. While on a collecting expedition with Chapman in Mexico, Fuertes discovered a species of oriole. Chapman named it Icterus fuertesi, commonly called Fuertes's Oriole after his friend.

In 1904 Fuertes married Margaret F. Sumner and they had a son, Louis Sumner, and a daughter, Mary.

Fuertes lectured on ornithology at Cornell University from 1923. In 1926-27 he participated in the Chicago Field Museum/Daily News Abyssinian (Ethiopia) Expedition led by Wilfred Hudson Osgood. He produced some of his most exquisite bird and mammal watercolors as a result of this trip. On his return he visited Frank Chapman at Tannersville, New York. Returning from the meeting, his car was hit by a train at a railroad crossing near Unadilla, New York. A load of hay had concealed the oncoming train. His wife was seriously injured, but he died. The paintings he carried were however undamaged. This collection was later purchased from Mrs. Fuertes by C. Suydam Cutting.

Fuertes' earliest commissions included 25 large decorative panels for F. F. Brewster of New Haven, Connecticut. This was followed by some murals at the Flamingo Hotel, of Miami, Florida and some paintings for the New York Zoological Society. He was much sought after later, illustrating books, plates for journals and magazine. Working with impressions from the field and from freshly collected specimens, Fuertes' works are considered some of the most accurate and natural depictions of birds. He had an ability to capture the bird in action and reproduce illustrations from a mental image. Apart from illustrations, he wrote some full length articles including one on falconry in the National Geographic and another on dogs. The cover of the journal Auk published by the American Ornithologists' Union was designed by Fuertes.

Some of the books that he illustrated include:

    ?    A-Birding on a Bronco, by Florence A. Merriam, 1896 (scanned)
    ?    Citizen Bird by Mabel Osgood Wright and Elliot Coues. Macmillan Company, 1896 (1923 reprint)
    ?    Song Birds and Water Fowl, by H E Parkhurst, 1897 (scanned)
    ?    Bird Craft, by M. Osgood Wright, 1897 (1900 reprint)
    ?    The Woodpeckers, by F H Eckstorm, 1901 (scanned)
    ?    Second Book of Birds, Olive Thorne Miller (pseudonym, Mrs. Harriet Mann Miller), 1901
    ?    Birds of the Rockies, by Leander S. Keyser 1902 (scanned)
    ?    Handbook of Birds of Western North America, by Frank Chapman, 1902 (1904 reprint)
    ?    Upland Game Birds, by Edwyn Sandys and T S van Dyke, 1902 (scanned)
    ?    Key to North American Birds by Elliot Coues, 1903 (scanned)
    ?    Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America, by Frank M. Chapman, 1904 (scanned)
    ?    Birds of New York by Elon Howard Eaton, 1910 (scanned)
    ?    Wild Animals of North America by Edward W. Nelson, 1918 9 scanned)
    ?    Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States by Edward Howe Forbush, 1925 (1927 edition)
    ?    Artist and Naturalist in Ethiopia by Wilfred Hudson Osgood. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1936
    ?    The Bird Life of Texas by Harry Church Oberholser. University of Texas Press, 1974

"Louis Agassiz Fuertes", Wikipedia, //

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Named for the naturalist and Harvard University professor, Louis Agassiz, Louis Agassiz Fuertes had an interest in nature from childhood when he was inspired by John James Audubon's book, Birds of America. Reportedly he had an amazing ability to remember what he observed, and then transfer that information to paper.

He was born in Ithaca, New York, made his first painting of a bird at age fourteen, and received his education in the College of Architecture at Cornell University.  However, encouraged for his illustration talents by Elliot Coues, a prominent bird illustrator, he avoided parental pressure to become an engineer, took art instruction from Abbot Thayer, whom he first met at Harvard when Fuertes joined the Ornithologists Union.  Like other members of that group, he developed the artistic goal of depicting live birds with authenticity. In fact, he often visited the Thayer family in Dublin, New Hampshire and took many sketching field trips with them. He also visited and was influenced by George De Forest Brush and his family in Dublin. DeBrush's daughter, recalled Fuertes as "a most lovable personality. . . .full of high spirits and fun." (Behrens, 148). However, Fuertes and Thayer eventually had a falling out because Thayer, who had done much camouflage painting, insisted that birds should be portrayed in natural settings, often partially hidden by plants, trees, etc. and not easily seen. Fuertes focus was the bird itself with little distraction, and Thayer regarded this approach as a betrayal of his teachings.

Fuertes illustrated numerous books and articles including for National Geographic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and his three-volume Birds of Massachusetts. For years, children collected his bird cards that were inserted in boxes of Arm & Hammer baking soda. He traveled widely to broaden his knowledge of birds and their habitat, and these travels took him to Mexico, Colombia, Europe and Africa.

In 1899, as a biological surveyer, he accompanied the Harriman Expedition to Alaska, a group that traveled up the coast as far as Plover Bay in Siberia. Sponsored by the railroad an mining magnate Edward Harriman, the elaborately outfitted expedition included well-know scientists such as John Burroughs and John Muir, landscape artists Frederick Dellenbaugh and Robert Swain Gifford, photographer Edward Curtis, and bird-painter, Louis Fuertes.

Fuertes and his wife died at age 53 when he and his wife, returning home from a trip where he was consulting with Frank Chapman and was bringing a collection of his watercolor paintings from an Ethiopian expedition of 1926-1927. He and his wife were struck by a train at a railroad crossing.  Fuertes died; his wife was seriously injured; but the paintings survived intact, and they were later purchased from Mrs. Fuertes by C Suydam Cutting.

Roy R. Behrens, "Louis Agassiz Fuertes", Camoupedia
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Wikipedia, (Accessed 6/22/2013)

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