LEVAILLANT, François (1753-1824). Histoire naturelle d’une partie d’oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l’Amerique et des Indes. Paris: for Gabriel Dufour by Didot le jeune, 1801.

$ 18,500.00

Volume one (all published). Folio, (15 x 12 inches). 84 (of 98) consecutively numbered engraved plates: 42 color-printed and finished by hand interleaved with 42 uncolored plates (a bit spotted throughout). Late 19th-century half light brown calf, light brown cloth, the spine in six compartments with five raised bands, gilt lettered in two (spine and extremities very worn with loss).

Provenance: From the distinguished collection of William H. Phelps, his sale, Sotheby’s, June 26, 1998, sale 7151, lot 593, with his bookplate to the front pastedown.

“Beautiful work. The plates to this work were made from the drawings of Barraband, the best ornithological painter France has ever produced” (Sabin)

First edition. THE SCARCEST AND MOST DESIRABLE ISSUE. Originally published in eight parts, “Oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l’Amerique et des Indes” was available in three states: folio, with both colored and uncolored plates, as here; large quarto, with colored plates only; and quarto, with uncolored plates only. Originally planned as a massive work with a total of 240 plates, only this one volume was ever published, with 49 plates (in this copy, 42 are present). The fine portraits are of birds from the Bucerotidae and the Cotingidae families that Levaillant did not include in his earlier “Histoire naturelle des oiseaux d’Afrique” (1799-1802). “These plates were printed by Langlois, who did almost all the colour-printing for Levaillant…French colour-printing of this period…has never been surpassed” (Fine Bird Books).

“Levaillant was until exceeded by Gould (and until now only by him) the producer of the most comprehensive series of works on exotic birds” (Fine Bird Books, p. 118). The son of the French consul in Dutch Guiana, Levaillant was born in Paramarimbo and seems to have inherited his father’s love of travel. He became one of the first of a new breed of naturalists who attained prominence towards the end of the 18th century, studying and recording their subjects in their natural habitat. Ayer/Zimmer 392; Balis 54; Copenhagen/Anker 301; Fine Bird Books 90 (“very fine”); Nissen IVB 557; Ronsil 1780.