Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Genevieve Jones
Even death will not stop us

Genevieve Jones, The Artists
Portrait of Genevieve Jones

Genevieve Jones, known to her friends as Gennie, was shy, tall, and shaken by persistent anxiety from living her teenage years during the U.S. Civil War, but Gennie had found true love. Her fiancé was a gifted musician and literary critic, and sometimes, a drunk. Eventually, his struggle with alcoholism became so disturbing to Gennie’s parents that they broke off the engagement just before Gennie’s 30th birthday. Gennie fled to Philadelphia to stay with her friend Eliza. In Philadelphia, the Centennial International Exhibition was in full spectacular display, and in one of the exhibition halls the broken-hearted Genevieve Jones encountered Audubon’s seminal book The Birds of America. In the beautiful illustrations she found a new mission for her life.

Gennie had always loved birds, and often rode along when her father’s Dr. Nelson made house calls, stopping along the way to collect nests and eggs to add to their cabinet of curiosities. As a child she had discovered spotted delicate birds eggs that she was unable to identify in existing ornithology books. At the Centennial Exhibition she discovered that even Audubon, godfather of bird-loving scientists, had made no thorough study of nests and eggs, including them only as aesthetic props in his illustrations.

A bold plan

On her return home, Gennie’s parents recognized her profound depression, and encouraged her to take on a childhood dream: to create her own encyclopedic illustrated tome documenting birds’ eggs and nests. The project, called Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, aimed to document the 130 species common to her home state. As Jones set to work with her friend Eliza, her father drafted a desperate plan to fund the enormously expensive project through a multi-part subscription priced at $5 in color and $2 for black and white, about $150 and $60 per volume today—a significant commitment that barely broke even after the expensive lithographic printing.

To the surprise of the ornithology community, Gennie and Eliza turned out to be a scientific illustrator of astounding precision and grace. When her first three prints were complete and distributed for review, the ornithology bulletin editor Elliott Coues wrote “I had no idea that so sumptuous and elegant a publication was in preparation, and am pleased that what promises to be one of the great illustrated works on North American Ornithology should be prepared by women.” The first volume was so well received the publication doubled its subscribers, which included the former U.S. president President Rutherford B. Hayes, and future president Theodore Roosevelt, who was still studying at Harvard.

A cruel fate

One month after her first of 23 proposed volumes shipped, two years after the project began, Gennie fell desperately ill. Typhoid fever, responsible for nearly half the disease-related deaths among civil war soldiers, took Genevieve Jones at the age of 32. Tenacious to the end, Gennie instructed her younger brother Howard to continue the project, and taught her mother Virginia the art of illustration, determined that her project survive her.

The next years were heartbreaking for the Jones family. Virginia re-trained herself from a casual painter into a detail-focused technical illustrator, and hired three assistants to help complete the work. Howard and Virginia survived their own encounter with Typhoid, which took Howard’s strength and damaged Virginia’s eyesight. The costs of creating Birds of Ohio quickly eclipsed their meager profits, and Howard spent the entirety of their $25,000 retirement savings on the project. Virgina continued to illustrate despite extraordinary pain to her eyes. Word eventually came that Jones’s old lover, utterly lost, had committed suicide.

Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio was finally completed in 1886 and bound as a complete volume in red Moroccan leather, like the finest European folios. Only a handful of copies sold. Virgina had gone blind from the strain on her eyes, and Howard abandoned his medical practice, locked the doors to the family studio, and often disappeared on long walks through the woods.


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Reed Enger, "Genevieve Jones, Even death will not stop us," in Obelisk Art History, Published March 05, 2020; last modified November 08, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/genevieve-estelle-jones/.

Genevieve Jones was a U.S. Artist who Died Young, Scientific Illustrator and Female Artist born on May 13, 1847. Jones died on August 17, 1879.

Plate 1. Baltimore Oriole, Genevieve Jones

Plate 1. Baltimore Oriole 1879 – 1886

Plate 2. Wood Thrush, Genevieve Jones

Plate 2. Wood Thrush 1879 – 1886

Plate 3. Black-Billed Cuckoo, Genevieve Jones

Plate 3. Black-Billed Cuckoo 1879 – 1886

Plate 4. Indigo Bird, Genevieve Jones

Plate 4. Indigo Bird 1879 – 1886

Plate 5. Red-Winged Blackbird, Genevieve Jones

Plate 5. Red-Winged Blackbird 1879 – 1886

Plate 6. Kingbird, Genevieve Jones

Plate 6. Kingbird 1879 – 1886

Plate 7. Crow Blackbird, Genevieve Jones

Plate 7. Crow Blackbird 1879 – 1886

Plate 8. Robin, Genevieve Jones

Plate 8. Robin 1879 – 1886

Plate 9. Loggerhead Shrike, Genevieve Jones

Plate 9. Loggerhead Shrike 1879 – 1886

Plate 10. Pewit Flycatcher, Genevieve Jones

Plate 10. Pewit Flycatcher 1879 – 1886

Plate 11. Great Carolina wren, Genevieve Jones

Plate 11. Great Carolina wren 1879 – 1886

Plate 12. Eastern Bluebird, Genevieve Jones

Plate 12. Eastern Bluebird 1879 – 1886

Plate 13. Barn Swallow, Genevieve Jones

Plate 13. Barn Swallow 1879 – 1886

Plate 14. Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Genevieve Jones

Plate 14. Yellow Billed Cuckoo 1879 – 1886

Plate 15. Summer Warbler, Genevieve Jones

Plate 15. Summer Warbler 1879 – 1886

Plate 16. Field Sparrow, Genevieve Jones

Plate 16. Field Sparrow 1879 – 1886

Plate 17. Catbird, Genevieve Jones

Plate 17. Catbird 1879 – 1886

Plate 18. Quail, Genevieve Jones

Plate 18. Quail 1879 – 1886

Plate 19. Acadian Flycatcher & Wood Pewee, Genevieve Jones

Plate 19. Acadian Flycatcher & Wood Pewee 1879 – 1886

Plate 20. Yellow-Breasted Chat, Genevieve Jones

Plate 20. Yellow-Breasted Chat 1879 – 1886

Plate 21. Maryland Yellow-Throat, Genevieve Jones

Plate 21. Maryland Yellow-Throat 1879 – 1886

Plate 22. Cardinal Red Bird, Genevieve Jones

Plate 22. Cardinal Red Bird 1879 – 1886

Plate 23. Warbling Vireo & Red-Eyed Vireo, Genevieve Jones

Plate 23. Warbling Vireo & Red-Eyed Vireo 1879 – 1886

Plate 24. Carolina Dove, Genevieve Jones

Plate 24. Carolina Dove 1879 – 1886

Plate 25. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird & Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Genevieve Jones

Plate 25. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird & Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher 1879 – 1886

Plate 26. Chipping Sparrow, Genevieve Jones

Plate 26. Chipping Sparrow 1879 – 1886

Plate 27. Green Heron, Genevieve Jones

Plate 27. Green Heron 1879 – 1886

Plate 28. Purple Martin, Genevieve Jones

Plate 28. Purple Martin 1879 – 1886

Plate 29. Black-Throated Bunting, Genevieve Jones

Plate 29. Black-Throated Bunting 1879 – 1886

Plate 30. Song Sparrow, Genevieve Jones

Plate 30. Song Sparrow 1879 – 1886

Plate 31. Brown Thrush, Genevieve Jones

Plate 31. Brown Thrush 1879 – 1886

Plate 32. Blue-Winged Yellow Warbler, Genevieve Jones

Plate 32. Blue-Winged Yellow Warbler 1879 – 1886

Plate 33. Scarlet Tanager, Genevieve Jones

Plate 33. Scarlet Tanager 1879 – 1886

Plate 34. Summer Redbird, Genevieve Jones

Plate 34. Summer Redbird 1879 – 1886

Plate 35. Traill's Flycatcher, Genevieve Jones

Plate 35. Traill's Flycatcher 1879 – 1886

Plate 36. Blue Jay, Genevieve Jones

Plate 36. Blue Jay 1879 – 1886

Plate 37. Chewink, Genevieve Jones

Plate 37. Chewink 1879 – 1886

Plate 38. Meadow Lark, Genevieve Jones

Plate 38. Meadow Lark 1879 – 1886

Plate 39. Fish Hawk, Wild Turkey & Turkey Buzzard, Genevieve Jones

Plate 39. Fish Hawk, Wild Turkey & Turkey Buzzard 1879 – 1886

Plate 40. Orchard Oriole, Genevieve Jones

Plate 40. Orchard Oriole 1879 – 1886

Plate 41. Cliff Swallow, Genevieve Jones

Plate 41. Cliff Swallow 1879 – 1886

Plate 42. Bewick's Wren, Genevieve Jones

Plate 42. Bewick's Wren 1879 – 1886

Plate 43. American Goldfinch, Genevieve Jones

Plate 43. American Goldfinch 1879 – 1886

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