Jean Théodore Descourtilz (c. 1796-1855)
Ornithologie brésilienne ou Histoire des Oiseaux du Brésil, remarquables par leur plumage, leur chant ou leurs habitudes. Rio de Janeiro [but printed in London]: by 'l'Imprimerie de Waterlow et Fils' [verso of title] for Thomas Reeves, [1854-?1856]. 4 parts bound in one volume, 2° (580 x 420). Letterpress title with woodcut armorial (?of Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, the dedicatee, cf. Borba de Moraes), letterpress music in the text, the text printed in double columns within a letterpress frame. 48 chromolithographic plates finished by hand, by Waterlow and Sons, 'designed by Descourtilz' (Fine Bird Books). (Title slightly spotted and marked, lacking dedication leaf, title, text and plates affected by minor worming, some holes neatly repaired, a few plates cropped, causing loss of some titles or numbers and small loss of image on plate 8). Modern crimson morocco-backed boards, the spine gilt in 6 compartments.
THE RARE FIRST EDITION OF 'A VERY IMPORTANT, FUNDAMENTAL, SYSTEMATIC TREATISE' (Wood). Ornithologie brésilienne ... 'contains descriptions and figures of 164 species of Brazilian birds, including 15 new species and a new genus' (Zimmer). It was published in 4 parts, each part containing the descriptive text and 12 plates by Descourtilz, who Christine E. Jackson judges a 'meticulous artist' (Dictionary, p.221). The publication was in fact incomplete, curtailed by Descourtilz's death in 1855. The plates were made up in London, and appear with various imprints: the first copy cited by Zimmer bears the imprint 'Londres: de l'imprimerie de Joseph Masters et Cie., Rue d'Aldersgate, 1852' on the verso of the title page, as do the copies cited by Wood and Nissen, and the Library of Congress copy. Jean Théodore Descourtilz was the son of the botanist Michel Étienne Descourtilz (1775-1836, see footnote to lot 32 for further biographical details), author of Flore [Pittoresque et] Médicale des Antilles ... (Paris: 1821-1829) and other works. Jean Théodore Descourtilz was probably born in 1796, and 'is known to have been in Haiti in 1799 [...], to be painting in Antilles in 1821 [presumably preparing the original drawings for the plates in his father's Flore [Pittoreque et] Médical des Antilles], and was then appointed to the national museum of Rio de Janeiro in 1854' (Christine E. Jackson, loc. cit.). By 1852 he was, according to the title of the present work, styling himself 'Dr. J.T. Descourtilz' (on the title page of his Oiseaux Brillants du Brésil he appears as 'J. Th. Descourtilz'), and describing himself as 'membre de la Société Linnéenne de Paris et de la Société Auxiliaire de l'Industrie de Rio de Janeiro'.
The first book that Descourtilz fils is known to have illustrated was his father's Flore [Pittoresque et] Médicale des Antilles ..., and his work on this book would have supplied him with a solid grounding in the botanical aspects of his art. His bird portraits almost invariably feature highly accurate depictions of appropriate plants: a feature that is now common, but was innovative at the time. Only 2 published books by Jean Théodore Descourtilz are known: Oiseaux Brillants du Brésil (Paris: 1834), which Borba de Moraes records as 'so rare that I began to doubt its existence [...] I was unable to find it in any of the large libraries, or in any with famous ornithological collections', and the present work, which is 'rare and greatly sought after' (op. cit.). Only 6 other copies with all 48 plates have sold at auction since 1975. BM(NH) I, p.443; Borba de Moraes I, p.260; Coues p.269; Fine Bird Books (1990) p.90; Nissen IVB 236; Sabin 19692; Wood p.315; Zimmer p.166.