DEBRET, JEAN BAPTISTE. Voyage pittoresque et historique au Brésil, ou Séjour d'un Artiste Français au Brésil, depuis 1816 jusqu'en 1831 inclusivement. Paris: Firmin Didot frères 1834-35-39. 3 vols., folio, 502 x 326mm. (19 3/4 x 12 3/4 in.), nineteenth-century quarter calf, red morocco lettering-pieces on spines, endpapers renewed, small chip to foot of spine of vol. 1, corners rubbed (exposing original green cloth in places), plate 1 in vol. 2 with 5-inch repaired tear just touching image, plates 27-31 (vol. 2) each with a neatly repaired horizontal tear across entire leaf, repairs to corners of vol. 1 portrait, first text leaf in vol. 3 and four plates, catching plate no. of pl. 20 (vol. 3), a few short marginal tears, minor creasing to half-titles and titles of vols. 2-3 and to a few text leaves, some foxing, mainly to vol. 3, occasional marginal soiling or slight dampstaining. ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS WORKS ON BRAZIL, half-titles, lithographed author-portrait, 3 lithographed maps, one autograph facsimile and 140 plates of chalk lithographs after Debret alone or with the Vicomtesse de Portes, some plates with two separately numbered images.
The French artist Jean Baptiste Debret held the office of court painter to Pedro II of Portugal, Emperor of Brazil for approximately 15 years before his return to France in 1831, where he began publishing his Voyage pittoresque. The plates and accompanying descriptions, which appeared in 26 fascicles, depict every aspect of Brazilian native and colonial life, including native ceremonies, costumes, recreations, weaponry and crafts (basketry and musical instruments), urban trades and festivals, governmental buildings and royal figures, botanical illustrations of native plants and jungle scenes, coastal profiles and landscapes of Rio, and an eloquent series of scenes showing the brutal existence of black slaves.
The work did not sell well, and a large part of the edition remained in sheets in the Didot warehouse in Paris, finally being sold as waste paper. Finally, "in the thirties, the Brazilian people discovered Debret. A street in the center of Rio de Janeiro was named after him...His book became 'à la mode'; prices mounted sky high and copies became scarce"--Borba de Moraes (1983, p. 252); Sabin 19122. (3)