While visiting relatives in Philadelphia, she chanced to attend an exhibition featuring a copy of John James Audubon’s hand-painted engravings from his massive “Birds of America” collection. Seeing them reignited a long-held desire to complete the task he had started: He’d drawn the birds, but not the nests.
She had spoken of wanting to fill that gap, but her family had balked because of the enormous cost of producing such a book. After her broken engagement, her father, perhaps feeling guilty because he’d blocked the marriage, relented. Her brother offered to gather nests and eggs. Friends offered to help with the drawing and hand-tinting.
In 1879, shortly after the project was launched, Gennie died of typhoid fever. She was 32. Her one-time suitor committed suicide with morphine.