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Histoire naturelle des perroquets.

Paris: Levrault frères, 1801-05 Stock Code: 137037
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Magnificent plates by Jacques Barraband - "a superlative bird artist"

First edition in the preferred folio format of this celebrated work, which stands in the front rank of ornithological books; a quarto version was issued at the same time. The very fine colour plates are by Jacques Barraband, "a superlative bird artist" (Buchanan, p. 97-8), which, apart from their undoubted beauty, display a scientific accuracy that is matched by the meticulous engraving and superb printing of Langlois. They also exhibit a delicate gradation of tone and colour that seems to catch the shifting hues of the birds' feathers.

François Levaillant (1753-1824), son of the French consul in Suriname, is one of the major figures in the history of ornithology. "Until overtaken by John Gould later in the nineteenth century, he was the most prolific producer of comprehensive bird books, and in sheer quality he was eclipsed only by Audubon" (ibid.). He belongs to the new breed of naturalist who attained prominence towards the end of the 18th century, studying and recording their subjects in their natural habitat. Levaillaint's illustrator, Jacques Barraband (1767-1809), is considered to be the greatest ornithological artist of his time. He had a varied career, working for both the Gobelin tapestry works and the Sevres porcelain factory, and was also responsible for painting the dining-room at the palace of Saint-Cloud.

"After he had made himself Emperor, it was part of Napoleon's deliberate policy to initiate a series of magnificent publications that would vie with those undertaken to the orders of Louis XIV. These were sent as presents to crowned heads, men of science, and learned bodies, in evidence of the splendours of the Empire... The works of Levaillant owe their sumptous character to... this impetus. His Histoire naturelle des perroquets is, unwittingly, a part of the glories of Napoleonic France" (Fine Bird Books).

Provenance: armorial bookplates of Edward Milner of West Retford House, Nottinghamshire.

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2 volumes, folio (530 x 340 mm). Near contemporary red morocco-grain roan, smooth spines gilt lettered direct and divided by swag rolls enclosing single fillets and a wavy-line-and-dot roll, dark slate-green diagonal-rib cloth sides decorated overall with a pattern of fissures, sides and corners trimmed with a gilt ribbon-and-flower roll, edges untrimmed.


145 engraved plates after Jacques Barraband, printed in colours and finished by hand (with tissue guards); half-titles present, list of plates at end of each volume.


Corners refurbished, bindings slightly rubbed and with a few old marks, scratch across back cover of vol. II, two leaves of letterpress with marginal closed-tears, occasional minor foxing yet this remains an attractive copy, internally clean and bright.


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