BARRABAND, Jacques (1767-1809). Le Petit Vaza, Pl. 82, from Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets, c. 1805.
Jacques Barraband's engravings of birds are masterpieces of French ornithological illustration. These stunning portraits were done for the distinguished ornithologist Francois Levaillant, who commissioned the artist to illustrate his landmark works on African ornithology, including the lavish and striking Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets. Images of African birds were popular in early 19th-century France both for their exoticism and for the interest in Africa that Napoleon's campaigns were generating. The collaboration of Levaillant and Barraband represented a departure from previous ornithological texts in its emphasis on beauty and luxury, with sumptuously colored and flawlessly rendered birds. The project was a massive undertaking, which required over 300 finished watercolors. Apart from their undoubted beauty, they display a scientific accuracy that few ornithological artists have matched since. Still, the meticulous hand-colored engravings in Levaillant's publications could not match the delicate modulations of tone and color, the fine lines and perfect draftsmanship of Barraband's original watercolors, which are exceptional in their richness and tonal variation. Each feather is described by dozens of parallel lines, providing remarkable detail and naturalistically textured color. Engraving with original hand color. Published by Levrault Frères in Paris, c. 1805. 21 x 13 1/2 Inches.