Nicolas Huet was appointed an official artist at the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris in 1804, and worked for the museum for the remainder of his career. Over 200 of his drawings on vellum survive in the library. Huet also drew animals, birds and plants for the Empress Josephine, who was a keen collector of Natural History specimens.
The present drawing shows an American cougar, or puma. The register of the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle for 17 Prairial an XII (8 June 1804) shows that 'il a été reçu du laboratoire de zoologie un etortue, le secrétaire du Cap et un Cougar envoyés par l'Impératrice' (C. Jouanin, L'Impératrice Josephine et les Sciences Naturelles, exhib. cat., Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, 1997, p. 117). The cougar was drawn by Léon de Wailly, another artist at the museum, in August of 1804, and the vellum was presented to Josephine. That cougar was a young specimen and the present drawing may represent the same animal later in its life. The Museum had had several cougars, but the present animal may have been brought to France from America with the expedition led by Nicolas Baudin, which returned to France in 1803. The Histoire naturelle des mammifères by Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Frédéric Cuvier, published in Paris in 1819, illustrates a cougar drawn by J.-C. Werner which is inscribed 'Individu ramené en France par l'expédition Baudin ... arrivé adulte à la Ménagerie, y a vécu quinze ans, mangeant 4 à 6 livres de viande par jour...'.
Huet also made drawings of animals on vellum for collectors such as Masséna. The inscription on the frame of the present drawing indicates that it belonged to King Friedrich Augustus II of Saxony, who was a noted collector of drawings and prints by both the Old Masters and his contemporaries, although perhaps not at the level of his uncle the Archduke Albert, founder of the Albertina in Vienna. Friedrich Augustus was the Emperor Napoleon's brother-in-law, which may suggest a route for the drawing from Paris to Saxony. Friedrich Augustus bequeathed the drawing to his physician Carl Gustav Carus, who in addition to being a doctor was a talented artist and art theorist, and a close friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Caspar David Friedrich.
A drawing by Huet of a tiger, similar to the present drawing but dated 1812 was sold at Sotheby's, London, 3 July 1996, lot 76, while another of a giraffe presented to King Charles X by the Viceroy of Egypt was sold at Sotheby's, New York, 9 January 1996, lot 95. A drawing of a zebra-donkey cross and a donkey, of the same size as the present drawing and with a similar gold border, by Huet's colleague Léon de Wailly was sold in these Rooms, 10 July 2001, lot 135.