ROBERT, Nicolas (1614-1685), or school of. Grèbe à cou noir (Podiceps nigricollis). Paris: third quarter 17th-century.
Single sheet, vellum (9 4/8 x 7 4/8 inches), fine original graphite, watercolour and guache drawing of a Black-necked Grebe, surrounded by a border of liquid gold, and numbered "175" in pencil lower right.
Provenance: with Christie's Paris, 22nd April, 2016, lot 56
Nicolas Robert was one of the greatest natural history artists of the seventeenth century, and his work established standards combining scientific accuracy and aesthetic appeal that influenced generations of artists and won the respect and patronage of the French royal family.
Robert created a vast, exquisite body of work for the French Crown. Along with other artists, Robert was commissioned by Gaston d'Orleans, brother of Louis XIII, to create watercolors of the rare plants and exotic birds he had assembled in his garden at Blois and the Ménagerie at Versailles. Robert's talent was recognized quickly as being superior to that of other artists working for the royal family, and after Gaston d'Orleans's death, he was quickly placed under the patronage of the Sun King, Louis XIV.
As a reward for the stunning works he painted for the king's personal collection, Robert was named inches Peintre Ordinaire du Roiinches in 1666, a title that confirmed his continuing fame and patronage. Robert was the first significant contributor to a collection of fine watercolors on vellum that became known, collectively, as the Velins du Roi (the King's Vellums).
The watercolors Robert completed under Gaston d'Orleans and then Louis XIV for the royal collection fed the interest and provided the inspiration for the great masters of botanical and ornithological art who followed: Jean Joubert, Nicholas Marechal, Gerard van Spaendonck and, of course, Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Thus the extremely fine print work of Parisian natural historians and flower painters as late as 1825 can be traced directly back to the strength of Robert's tradition.Recognising the greatness of the Velins, Napoleon Bonaparte continued work on this monumental and exquisite undertaking and these remarkable works were probably completed by Robert under his patronage.