LEVAILLANT, Francois (1753-1824). Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux d'Afrique. Paris: J.J.Fuchs [volumes I-III], Delachaussee [volumes 4-6], 1799-1808.
6 volumes. 4to., (13 2/8 x 10 inches). Half-titles to volumes 1-3. 300 fine engraved plates, printed in colour and finished by hand, including 4 double-page (lower small corner of plate 103 torn away). Contemporary tree calf, the smooth spines decorated in compartments, red morocco lettering-pieces in two, the others with fine gilt bird tools (backstrip of volume one detached, front hinge broken).
Bound from the original 51 parts which were published from 1796 until Levaillant's death in 1824 with the manuscript and accompanying 52 original drawings by Reinold for the seventh volume and 115 further original drawings for subsequent volumes unpublished. "It gives a comprehensive account of the birds of South Africa , based on Levaillant's personal experiences and the collections he made during his journeys in that region. The style of the text is lively, and it gives descriptions not only of the names of the birds, but also of their habits and habitats" (Anker).
"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. Anker 297.