Listening to the Birds

Listening to the Birds

Rochester, New York amateur photographer John E. Dumont’s photograph Listening to the Birds was taken in 1885 and copyrighted the same year. His posed genre photograph featured a grouping of eight children gathered outdoors near a fence and gazing skyward, listening and gazing at birds nesting or flying overhead. The photograph went on to win multiple prizes and medals, including a prize at the prestigious and groundbreaking 1891 Vienna Salon, the first international exhibition where photographs were accepted and judged solely on artistic merit. An 1893 advertisement for the photograph in the Review of Reviews stated:

This is one of the six pictures that Mr. Dumont has had permanently hung in the Royal and Imperial Gallery of Fine Arts of Vienna.  (1.)

The ad copy further quotes Royal Academy painter Marcus Stone (1840-1921) who said of it:

LISTENING TO THE BIRDSis the most beautiful photograph that I have ever seen; the arrangement, which must have cost the most careful study, is so artistically done that the art is entirely hidden.”

In 1892 Dumont contracted with Ernest Edward’s New York Photogravure Company and had the photograph issued as a limited edition subscription enlargement:

This plate was taken direct from life, and has been most delicately and beautifully reproduced in photogravure by the highest grade copper-plate process. The plate itself measures 10 x 12 inches (within measure). It is printed upon paper measuring 19 x 24 inches.  (2.)

His intent was to capitalize financially on the well-received image, with the aforementioned advertisement stating:

Mr. Dumont has consented to the reproduction of this celebrated picture only on condition that the number of prints are limited, so that purchasers are guaranteed against their ever becoming common, as is the case with nearly every engraving or etching that is offered for sale. The prints will positively be limited to 360. All plates have been destroyed, and no prints, proofs or reproductions of any kind whatsoever will be printed.  (3.)

Listening to the Birds was sold and marketed by the Elwood D. Haws stationary firm, located within the former Rochester Trust and Safe Deposit Company building at 25 Exchange Street in Rochester, New York. (4.) The limited edition with prices in dollars was issued as follows :

Proof Prints upon imperial parchment (signed), limited to 60 copies, each,  – 15.00
India proofs (signed), printed upon the finest India paper, mounted on thick plate paper, limited to 100 copies, each,  – 10.00
Prints upon silky Japanese paper, mounted upon heavy plate paper, limited to 200 copies, each, – 5.00


Although unattributed, an earlier advertisement for Listening to the Birds in the October, 1892 issue of The Cosmopolitan magazine gives the Ernest Edwards firm credit for the multiple editions:

Listening to the Birds…has been most beautifully and delicately reproduced by PHOTOGRAVURE, by Edwards’ highest grade Copper-plate process.


Recto details: signed in graphite in lower corner of impression: John E. Dumont & at lower right corner: No 73

signed in plate at lower right corner: John E. Dumont.  1885.

engraved in script, centered within impression along top margin of image: Copyright 1885 , by John E. Dumont.

Remarque of six starlings (birds) at upper left corner within impression.

Verso details: glued paperboard backing with overall print trimmed, indicating former placement within frame.


1. Full page advertisement: December, 1893: p. 16. Other awards included a first prize for the photo at the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York in 1885 and a medal at the 1888 Amateur Photographic Contest in London.
2. Ibid
3. Ibid
4. Interestingly in 1906, this bank produced a small promotional volume featuring pictorial photographs by Clarence H. White titled Homespun Essays – Everyday Thoughts About Everyday Life, an example of which can be seen on PhotoSeed.

Listening to the Birds

Image Dimensions33.5 x 25.1 cm (shown: cropped to faux-toned Chine-collé border)

Support Dimensions40.7 x 34.0 cm