Jean-Théodore Descourtilz

1796 – 13 January 1855

Jean-Théodore Descourtilz

Descourtilz was a naturalist and artist with a love for the wilds of Brazil. The detail and vibrancy found in his work has secured his position as one of the world’s most renowned bird artists.

Descourtilz was fascinated by the species he studied and observed his subjects meticulously, in order to create detailed illustrations of the birds he encountered. 

Brilliant Birds of Brazil is illustrated with 60 folio hand-colored lithographs with most plates showing a single species. As so few copies were ever produced, it is thought that Descourtilz himself colored each plate in the collection.

Descourtilz’s life story might not be as well-known as some of the other great ornithological artists. But the detail and vibrancy found in Descourtilz’s work has secured his position as one of the world’s most renowned bird artists.

One of eight brothers, Descourtilz was the son of the botanist Michel Étienne Descourtilz; himself a noted ornithological artist. It is his relationship with his father which ultimately set the young Descourtilz on his own career path. In fact, he began by creating illustrations for his father’s book, Flore pittoresque et médicale des Antilles, producing over 600 plates to accompany his father’s text.

There is evidence that Descourtilz was well-travelled even from a young age with documents suggesting he was taken to Haiti aged just three. But it was his travels in Brazil which shaped his work and life.

He arrived in Brazil around 1826 and by 1831 had presented a manuscript on the hummingbirds of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, where he later went on to work. In this work, he refers to a particular species of hummingbird which he explains is so rare that over five years of study, he only collected two specimens.

Descourtilz was fascinated by the species he studied and observed his subjects meticulously, in order to create detailed illustrations of the birds he encountered. He also kept notes, accurately describing the habits and appearance of each species.  

By the early 1850s, Descourtilz had been sent by the Government to Espirito Santo – a province in southeastern Brazil. His task was to investigate the animal life of the area and report on the precious minerals found there. Exploring the villages and towns of the area, he found various minerals and crystals, which were then lodged with the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro.

Descourtilz began working for the National Museum of Brazil in 1854 but sadly, it was his love for the natural world which led to Descourtilz’s untimely death the following year. He died of arsenic poisoning caused by the chemicals he used when preparing specimens.

Fittingly, given his love for the wilds of Brazil, Descourtilz is buried near Aracruz, close to the coast, north of Rio de Janeiro.

Descourtilz’s first ornithological book, Oiseaux Brillans du Brésil (which translates as Brilliant Birds of Brazil), was published in Paris in 1834.

Incredibly rare, it is illustrated with 60 folio hand-colored lithographs with most plates showing a single species.

According to the Sotheby’s catalog only four copes were thought to exist, with just two containing all 60 plates. This makes it one of the rarest publications detailing the birds of South America. The work contains fifteen different bird species, including one genus which was previously undiscovered.

In the beautiful color illustrations, Descourtilz depicts the birds alongside the plants and trees that feed and shelter the birds. By combining his talent as a painter with his exceptional knowledge of bird’s habitats, Descourtilz was able to produce beautiful and accurate compositions.

As so few copies were ever produced, it is thought that Descourtilz himself colored each plate in the collection.

Own your own Descourtilz giclée prints

With so few copies in existence, it’s a real privilege for us to be able to offer you a complete reproduction of Descourtilz’s acclaimed work: Oiseaux Brillans du Brésil.

Taken from the original copies held in the libraries of Teylers Museum in the Netherlands, our collection contains all 60 color plates.

Faithful to the originals in every way, this collection gives you a truly authentic facsimile, matching the size, colors and detail of Descourtilz’s original illustrations.

To create pieces that are identical to the originals, each giclée print is created using fine art digital printing processes, with the highest possible resolution. We also use age-resistant white etching paper and archival ink; to deliver prints designed to resist fading for 100 years, giving you a lifetime of enjoyment from this extraordinary collection.


Solander Box

When investing in the complete Descourtilz set, you can also choose our beautiful Solander box as the perfect place to store your collection.

This high-quality box is designed especially for keeping your prints safe and in perfect condition – yet you can still easily look at them whenever you wish. Click here to find out more about the Solander box [link to Solander box page]

You’ll also receive our Certificate of Authenticity. This shows all the details of your artwork and gives you valuable certification if you ever wish to sell or bequeath your collection in the future.