René Primevère Lesson (1794-1849)
Antoine-Germain BÉVALET (1779-1850), Zoë DUMONT (fl.1830), Marie Clémence LESSON (1796/7-1834), Paul Louis OUDART (1796-post 1859), Jean Gabriel PRÊTRE (fl.1800-1850), and Antoine Charles VAUTHIER (1790-post 1831). Oiseaux-Mouches, Colibris et Oiseaux de Paradis. Dessins originaux aux ouvrages de R.P. Lesson par J.G. Prêtre, Bevalet et P. Oudard Paris 1827-1833 [manuscript title leaf]. Sheet size: 319 x 236mm, 2 on larger folded sheets (404 x 274mm) and one on a smaller sheet mounted to size (289 x 192mm). A collection of 260 FINE ORIGINAL WATERCOLOUR DRAWINGS ON 256 SHEETS with a manuscript title leaf and a 4-leaf manuscript index, being an almost complete set of the finished watercolours used by the engravers and colourists for Lesson's published works, Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux-Mouches, Histoire Naturelle des Colibris, suivie d'un Supplément à l'Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux-Mouches, Les Trochilidées ou les Colibris et les Oiseaux-Mouches, suivis d'un Index général, and Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux de Paradis et des Épimaques. Many heightened with gum arabic, a few heightened with gold, 59 signed by Bévalet, one by Marie Lesson, 12 by Oudart, 172 by Prêtre, 3 by Vauthier, and 13 unsigned, but attributed on the published plates to Dumont (one), Prêtre (12), all but the watercolours from the Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux de Paradis... numbered in the top right corner according to the manuscript index and bearing the published plate number in the lower left. (Occasional light unobtrusive spotting and light overall browning to a few watercolours, Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux de Paradis... watercolours numbers 32 and 34 creased, 32 with a 45mm repaired tear to the outer blank margin, 34 with 2 short repaired tears to the left blank margin.) Unbound within a later folding cloth chemise, contained in a yellow morocco solander box, titled in gilt on the spine. The collection comprises:
(i) Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux-Mouches. 87 watercolours on 83 sheets, including 4 sheets with 2 watercolours each (one of these, number 216, with a subject published in the Histoire Naturelle des Colibris...). 42 signed by Bévalet, one signed by Marie Lesson, 36 signed by Prêtre, 3 signed by Vauthier, one unsigned, but attributed on the published plate to Dumont. One dated 1827, the others undated.
(ii) Histoire Naturelle des Colibris, suivie d'un Supplément à l'Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux-Mouches. 65 watercolours. 6 signed by Bévalet, 55 signed by Prêtre, 4 unsigned, but attributed on the published plates to Prêtre. One dated 1831, the others undated.
(iii) Les Trochilidées ou les Colibris et les Oiseaux-Mouches, suivis d'un Index général. 67 watercolours, watercolour number 150 possibly a version of number 149, and not published. 8 signed by Bévalet, 52 signed by Prêtre, 7 unsigned, but attributed on the published plates to Prêtre. 3 dated 1831, the others undated.
(iv) Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux de Paradis et des Épimaques. One-leaf manuscript title 'Oiseaux de Paradis 41pls' on blue paper. 41 watercolours to 41, (lacking the watercolours to published plates numbers 7 and 21. 12 signed by Paul Oudart), 28 signed by Prêtre, 1 unsigned, but attributed on the finished plate to Prêtre. Most dated 1831 or 1834.
A MAGNIFICENT COLLECTION OF ILLUSTRATIONS BY SOME OF THE LEADING FRENCH ORNITHOLOGICAL ARTISTS OF THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY, comprising all but 3 of the original watercolours for the plates of Lesson's 4 major monographs on exotic avifauna. The principal artists for these works were Antoine-German Bévalet, Paul Louis Oudart and Jean Gabriel Prêtre. Bévalet, judged by Jackson 'an exceptionally able and reliable artist' (Dictionary, p.157), studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and exhibited at the Salon between 1812 and 1844. A veteran of L'Uranie's circumnavigation of 1817-1820 before joining Lesson on the Coquille's, he had first-hand experience of the exotic species depicted here, which contributes to their remarkable realism. Like Redouté, Oudart was a pupil of the celebrated Dutch master Gerard van Spaendonck, and 'one of the outstanding French illustrators and bird painters' (Jackson op. cit p.382). He began exhibiting ornithological paintings at the Salon in 1819 and like Bévalet, he had participated in l'Uranie's circumnavigation of 1817-1820, gaining direct knowledge of many of the species that he drew. Prêtre, who provided 183 of the 260 watercolours offered here, worked at Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris and provided the plates for many of the important French natural history works published in the first half of the 19th century: as Anker notes, 'these works were illustrated in accordance with the highest requirements of the time by artists such as J.G. Prêtre' (p.45). These publications included Temminck and Meiffren Laugier de Chartrouse's Receuil de Planches coloriées d'Oiseaux (Paris, Strassburg and Amsterdam: [1820-1839], see lot 152). In gratitude for this and other work, Temminck named the Amazonian red-spectacled parrot Amazoni pretrei after him.
Lesson was educated at the naval medical school at Rochefort, and joined the French navy as a third class auxiliary surgeon in 1811, rising to the position of second-class pharmacist in 1821. Although his knowledge of natural history was mainly that of an autodidact, it was during this period that he completed a botanical survey of the area around Rochefort, which was eventually published as Flore Rochefortine, ou description des Plantes qui croissent spontanément, ou qui sont naturalisées, aux environs de la ville de Rochefort (Rochefort: 1835). In 1822 joined the company of the expeditionary ship Coquille, serving as medical officer and naturalist with P. Garnot, under the natural historian J.-S.-C. Dumont d'Urville. The responsibility for the zoological and botanical researches were shared between these 3 officers, and then between Lesson and Dumont d'Urville, following Garnot's disembarkation due to illness in 1824. The fieldwork that Lesson performed during the 2½-year circumnavigation in Brazil, Peru, Australia, Java and other countries was the foundation of his fame as a natural historian: as the DSB states, when 'Cuvier and Latreille reported to the Academy of Sciences on the expedition's zoological data and collections [...] Lesson and Garnot were praised for bringing back hitherto unknown species of birds, reptiles, fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. Lesson was also cited for his remarkable colored illustrations of fish and mollusks and for his valuable aid to Dumont d'Urville for the insect collection' (VIII, p.265).
Following his return, Lesson spent 4 years in Paris, publishing his findings and pursuing his researches, before taking up a series of positions at the naval medical school in Rochefort, becoming professor of pharmacy in 1831 and a corresponding member of the Académie des Sciences in 1833. Cf. Anker 291, 293-294 and 296; cf. BM(NH) III, p.1096; cf. Brunet III, col.1017; cf. Fine Bird Books (1990) p.117; cf. Nissen IVB 547-550; cf. Ronsil 1774; cf. Whittell p.436 (Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux de Paradis et des Épimaques only; cf. Wood p.433; cf. Zimmer pp.386-390.