LEVAILLANT, François (1753-1824). Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis et des rolliers, suivie de celles des toucans et des barbus. Paris: chez Denn le jeune, Perlet, -1806.
2 volumes, broadsheets (568 x 446 mm). Half-titles. 114 FINE PLATES AFTER JACQUES BARRABAND, 5 folding, etched by Bouquet, Grémilliet and Pre, printed by Langlois and Rousset, IN TWO STATES: UNCOLORED, AND PRINTED IN COLORS AND FINISHED BY HAND. (Some occasional minor mostly marginal spotting, some light offsetting to verso of colored plates, black and white plate 5, vol. 1 with short marginal tear.) Contemporary red straight-grain morocco gilt, smooth spine in 7 compartments, each with two black morocco gilt lettered spine labels, gilt edges, marbled endpapers by Fröding of Amsterdam, with his engraved ticket. (A few small abrasions to sides.)
Provenance: Coenraad Jakob Temminck (? See below; his sale E.J. Brill and van der Hoek fréres Leiden, 27-29 September 1858; J.W. Six de Vromade (bookplate; his sale Kerling The Hauge, 16-21 November 1925, lot 383); Marcel Jeanson (1885-1942, bookplate; his sale Sotheby's Monaco, 16 June 1988, lot 214).
FIRST EDITION, LARGE-PAPER ISSUE, THE JEANSON COPY OF LEVAILLANT'S FINAL SPECTACULAR WORK ON EXOTIC BIRDS, WITH PLATES SPECIALLY SELECTED AND COLORED AFTER SPECIMENS COLLECTED BY C.J. TEMMINCK. The first volume contains an additional calligraphic manuscript title-page, on Whatman paper watermarked 1801: "Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de Paradis par F. Le Vaillant; exemplaire choisi et retouché d'après les oiseaux de cabinet de Mr. C.J. Temminck." The plates after Barraband are superb and effortlessly capture the beauty of some of most eye-catching of all bird species: the first section includes 24 plates of birds of paradise; 15 of rollers; 17 of jays; 18 of toucans; 24 of barbets; 5 of tamatias; 3 of barbacous; 8 of jacamars. The second section contains 31 "pomerops" (including hoopoes); 21 bee-eaters; 20 trogons and touracos, and a supplement of 11 birds including toucans and rollers.
Levaillant, the son of the French consul in Dutch Guiana, was born in Paramarimbo and seems to have inherited his father's love of travel. He was one of the first of a new breed of naturalists who achieved prominence towards the end of the 18th century and studied and recorded birds in their natural habitat. Of his time, he was arguably the greatest and certainly the most prolific producer of comprehensive high-quality bird books. Jacques Barraband (1767 or 1768-1809), a pupil of Joseph Malaine (1745-1809), worked as a draughtsman at the Gobelins factory and decorated the dining-room of Napoleon's chateau at Saint-Cloud. However, his work for Levaillant undoubtedly marks the high point of his career and makes clear why he was considered the best ornithological artist of his generation. Barraband's relatively early death and the subsequent popularity of the work of Audubon and Gould have perhaps prevented him from retaining his rightful position, alongside his contemporary Redouté, as one of the greatest natural history artists of all time. Anker 304; Brunet III:1033; Fine Bird Books pp.90-91; Nissen IVB 559; Ronsil p.298; Wood p.434; Zimmer p.893. (2)