LAPORTE, François Louis Nompar de Caumont de, comte de Castelnau (1810-1880); HUPÉ, Louis Hippolyte (1819-1867); NICOLET, Hercule (1801-1872); GUICHENOT, Alphonse (1809-1876); GERVAIS, Paul (1816-1879)
The French scientific expedition to South America under Castelnau, 1843-47: an archive of proof lithographs (with some original drawings) for zoological plates published in Part VII of Expédition dans les parties centrales de l’Amérique du Sud (1855-59).
The French scientific expedition to the Amazon in 1843-47 was the most important undertaken in South America in the nineteenth century. Organised at the behest of Louis Philippe, it was led by the naturalist François Laporte, comte de Castelnau (1810-1880), who was accompanied by two botanists and a taxidermist. The expedition crossed South America from Rio de Janeiro to Lima, following the watershed between the Amazon and La Plata river systems, and thence continued to Pará by boat. Castelnau and his companions succeeded in collecting an astonishing number of zoological, botanical, mineralogical and ethnographical specimens, and also gathered a wealth of astronomical, barometrical, hydrographical and hydraulic information through scientific observations. The narrative and findings of the expedition were published in the monumental Expédition dans les parties centrales de l’Amérique du Sud, de Rio de Janeiro a Lima, et de Lima au Para; exécutée par ordre du gouvernement Français pendant les années 1843 a 1847 (Paris, P. Bertrand, 1850-1859. 7 parts in 15 volumes, with 493 plates and maps. Nissen, ZBI 88-89; Sabin 11411; Borba de Moraes, I, pp. 167-168: ‘This monumental work is today still of great scientific value, and is sought after not only for its scientific content, but also by bibliophiles because of its very beautiful coloured plates’).
The present archive comprises 14 original drawings of beetles, myriapods and scorpions by Hercule Nicolet, and 138 proof lithographs by Oudart, Delahaye, Bocourt and Nicolet, after drawings of fishes by Francis Castelnau, molluscs by Louis Hippolyte Hupé, coleoptera and other entomological subjects by Nicolet, reptiles and amphibians by Alphonse Guichenot, and mammals by Paul Gervais, for zoological plates published in the seventh part of Expédition dans les parties centrales de l’Amérique du Sud (1855-59). Many of these are superbly coloured by hand, and many have the artist’s handwritten scientific notes. They are often approved by the artist or editor with the phrase Vu – bon [à graver]. Note that, while the three volumes of Part VII contain 176 plates in total, many of the 138 lithographs in this archive are duplicated, since they have both a coloured and an uncoloured proof version (and in some cases a third version, with annotations). This significant archive of South American natural history illustration is very well preserved; occasional foxing, else clean throughout.
PROVENANCE: François Laporte, comte de Castelnau, Melbourne. From 1864 to 1877 Castelnau served as French Consul in Melbourne, where he died in 1880. The archive includes a foolscap folio sheet with engraved letterhead of the French Consulate General, Melbourne, with Castelnau’s manuscript arithmetic calculations, circa 1870. Laporte’s published output in the field of natural science was prolific. He authored (sometimes jointly) some ninety books and papers on a range of subjects that included birds, mammals, reptiles and palaeontology, but his principal areas of interest were fishes and insects.
I. Artist: F. CASTELNAU. Subject: fishes. 109 proof lithographs by Oudart or Delahaye; 26 hand coloured; sheet sizes 320 x 340 mm; some annotated by Castelnau; several with proposed plate numbers; most with two or three variants.
II. Artist: H. HUPÉ. Subject: mollusca (shells). 16 proof lithographs by Oudart; all hand coloured; sheet sizes 340 x 320 mm; all inscribed and signed by the artist ‘Vu bon – H. Hupé’; none are duplicated.
III. Artist: H. NICOLET. Subject: coleoptera (beetles). 9 original drawings with hand colouring, all signed by the artist; sheet sizes 305 x 240 mm; most annotated by the editor ‘Vu – bon pour le graver’ or ‘Vu – bon à graver’ (two with 1857 dates); all with proposed plate numbers.
IV. Artist. H. NICOLET. Subjects: myriapods and scorpions. 5 original ink and wash drawings, all signed by the artist; sheet sizes 290 x 230 mm; all with proposed plate numbers; [together with] 4 proof lithographs (also by Nicolet?) of 4 of the drawings; sheet sizes 290 x 230 mm.
V. Artist: H. NICOLET. Subject: crustacea (crabs). 1 proof lithograph by Nicolet and de Hayet; hand coloured (by Nicolet?); sheet size 320 x 240 mm; annotated by the editor ‘Vu – bon pour le graver, 2 fevrier 1857’.
VI. Artist: A. GUICHENOT. Subjects: reptilia / amphibia (lizards; snakes; frogs). 6 proof lithographs by Bocourt; all hand coloured; sheet sizes 300 x 340 mm; all inscribed and signed by the artist ‘Vu bon – Guichenot’; none are duplicated.
VII. Artist: P. GERVAIS. Subject: chiroptera (bats). 2 proof lithographs by Delahaye, both hand coloured; sheet sizes 300 x 220 mm; unsigned and unannotated.