This depicts a cross between a donkey and a zebra, and the father of the cross, the donkey. The zebra came from South Africa and was donated by Janssens, Governor of the Cape, to Joséphine in 1804. It arrived in Lorient on 25 march 1804 on the boat Le Géographe. According to the zoologist Péron, it was so domesticated that it was used for riding by Janssens' son. In a letter dated 2 May 1805 Joséphine presented the zebra, along with a gnu, to the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. To thank her the directors of the Museum gave the Empress two kangaroos, as they knew she found them much more interesting that the zebra. One year later the zoologists of the Museum mated the zebra with a donckey and on 13 March 1807 a cross of the two was borne. In July 1807 the directors of the museum wanted to thank the Empress for the gift of the zebra and offered her the present drawing, depicting the crossbreed and its father. The gift was accompanied with a letter: 'Votre Majesté ayant bien voulu donner un zèbre femelle à la ménagerie du Muséum, nous avons désiré obtenir une espèce analogue en l'accouplant avec un bel âne de Toscane. Nos soins ont réussi et la femelle zèbre a mis bas il y a six mois. Le métis qu'elle a produit nous ayant paru curieux nous l'avons fait peindre sur vélin par Mr. de Wailly. Nous pensons que ce petit tableau sera agréable à Votre Majestae. Nous avons l'honneur de le lui offrir et nous nous flattons qu'elle daigne en accepter l'hommage'. Another version was made for the Museum, where it is still today (in volume LXXII, no. 89, along with 207 other works on vellums by de Wailly).
De Wailly had already painted the zebra in 1806 and in August 1809 he made another study of the cross. The zebra died in the menagerie of the Museum in 1823, was stuffed. The cross was still alive at that date.
Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in Annales du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle (1802-1827, IX, p. 223) wrote at length about the mating of the zebra and donkey. He states that the appearance of the resulting animal was similar to its mother and differed only in the colour of its coat, brown and closer to that of the donkey.
The Empress was very found of natural history and she is best known today for her collection of flowers and especially for the series of drawings she commissioned from Pierre-Joseph Redouté. In Malmaison she was also able to collect live animals, albeit in a less ambitious way. She had a large collection of birds, of mammals, and especially of tortoises. The only type of animals she was not collecting were aggressive ones like lions. Gradually, in order to economize, she stopped collecting animals and concentrated on plants and birds.
Joséphine hired numerous artists, besides Redouté, to record her natural history collections. When she died the contents of Malmaison were inherited by her children, Queen Hortense and Eugène de Beauharnais. After Eugène's death in 1824 Malmaison and its collections were valued and sold in 1829. The sale took seventeen days and included 1699 lots.
The 1814 valuation of Malmaison contained six drawings described as by de Wailly and Huet, and two by de Wailly of llamas. Lot 626 of the 1829 sale constsited of two works by de Wailly, one of tehm probably the present one.