As an adolescent he studied art with the famous painter David. When he was 18 his father sent him to manage a family plantation near Philadelphia, where he met and married his wife. He was unsuccessful at business (he went bankrupt twice and was imprisoned for debt in 1819), and only became famous as a nature artist and naturalist later, after going to Britain and Europe in 1826. He is considered one of the greatest painters of birds and animals who ever lived, and he also wrote several books about natural history. His Birds of America are now some of the most expensive books in the world: a copy sold in 1990 for ú1,600,000, and another copy in 1989 for $3,600,000.