Who was François Levaillant?
Francois Levaillant (1753-1824) was born in Paramaribo (Surinam) and the son of a French consul. He grew up amid forest and took an interest in the local fauna, collecting birds and insects. The family returned to France and Levaillant started a career as a trader in natural history specimens.
Levaillant and Barrabas
François Levaillant and Jacques Barraband collaborated on important natural history works: ‘Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets’ , and on the book ‘Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis et des rolliers: suivie de celle des toucans et des barbus’.
Levaillant was an intrepid traveler, pioneering naturalist and famous author, he was a celebrity in his own lifetime. His sumptuous bird books, highly sought after collectors’ items, were published in a golden age of French natural history book production.
Print artist Jacques Barraband (1767-1809) is considered the foremost ornithological artist in nineteenth-century France. He was admired for his ability to bring his subjects to life through conveying the texture of the feathers and the vivid coloration of the birds. Barraband was well-known for his work as an artist long before he came to work for famed naturalist François Levaillant.
Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets
From 1801-1805, François Levaillant and Jacques Barraband collaborated on the world’s best-known natural history work about parrots, ‘Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets’.
In this work, the birds seem to glow on the paper, giving off an inner vitality that comes from a brilliant use of color, a near-perfect rendering of feathers, and a breathtaking mastery of the printing process.
Like most bird collectors of his time, Levaillant observed the birds, killed and described them. In his diary he wrote:
“Having observed the first afternoon some peroquets flying through the air in order to go and drink at the river, I watched them, and was lucky enough kill one of them. It was a new species, which has never yet been described; its size approaches that of the ash-coloured peroquet of Guineau; its general colour is a green of different shades, but the legs and the tip of the wings are a beautiful orange.”
Histoire Naturelle des Toucans
From 1801-1806, François Levaillant and Jacques Barraband collaborated on the book ‘Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis et des rolliers: suivie de celle des toucans et des barbus’. The book contains 18 plates of toucans, available as a complete set.
Jacques Barraband’s rendering skills are unparalleled. His prints of birds remain among the most lifelike in natural history art. His luminously colored engravings, combined with Levaillant’s exact ornithological depictions represent a high point in the history of ornithological art.