Author: Andy Shield
Soon after becoming Emperor, Napoleon set about initiating a series of lavish publications to demonstrate the wealth and dominance of the empire. These were sent as gifts to noteworthy individuals, including crowned heads and men of science.
One such publication was François Levaillant’s ornithological masterpiece, Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets (1801-1805). Levaillant (1753-1824) was considered to be one of the greatest French naturalists of his generation. He attained prominence by meticulously describing many new species of birds that he’d studied in their natural habitat, particularly while travelling in Africa.
For the Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets, he commissioned leading zoological and botanical illustrator, Jacques Barraband (1767-1809), to produce over 300 watercolours depicting these vivid colourful birds. Barraband was known to Napoleon and undertook several commissions for Levaillant over the course of his lifetime.
The result was an exceptional set of scientifically-accurate and beautifully-detailed paintings that many believe still rate as the finest ornithological works ever produced. They seem to bring the birds to life with their rich, sumptuous, colours and highly intricate textures.
Barraband’s watercolours were then engraved and finished by Langlois under the direction of Louis Bouquet. The subsequent catalogue was released by Levrault Frères in Paris, circa 1805, and copies are highly scarce. In 2007, a complete first edition sold at Christie’s for £108,500. We’re delighted to present four of the original hand-finished engravings from Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets, here at Brave. Quite possibly our most exciting little collection to date.