The Black Frame was a painting by the American artist John James Audubon, so called because of its unusual black-painted frame. It was painted while he was a patient at the sanatorium in Bayou Goula, Louisiana.
Special Agent Pendergast's late wife Helen was obsessed with the painting and spent much of the last few years of her life trying to find and examine it. In the novel Fever Dream, Agent Pendergast picked up her trail after finding that her death in Africa was not an accident, as he had long believed. Pendergast believed that the painting would be an image of the Carolina Parakeet, an extinct species of parrot that Helen had been studying prior to her death.
Pendergast and Vincent D'Agosta recovered the painting in Port Allen, Louisiana and Pendergast laboriously restored it. To their surprise, the painting was not of a parakeet, but of a nude woman on a hospital bed. The painting marked a turning point in Audubon's career, and was his first truly great work. Helen's interest in the painting was the transformation to his brain that occurred when he caught a virus from the Carolina parakeets he had been dissecting.