Aubusson 1768 - Lyon 1809


Relatively little is known of the life of the ornithological and botanical painter Jacques Barraband, who was one of the finest natural history draughtsmen of the early years of the 19th century in France. The son of a tapestry worker in Aubusson, he was a pupil of the flower painter Joseph-Laurent Malaine at the Académie Royale in Paris. Barraband began his career painting designs for the Aubusson, Beauvais, Gobelins and Savonnerie tapestry factories, as well as for the porcelain manufactory at Sèvres. Several of his porcelain designs were exhibited between 1798 and 1806 at the Paris Salons, where he won a gold medal in 1804. Among his most important commissions was a series of watercolours of birds and flowers, executed between 1801 and 1804 for the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, who also employed the artist to decorate the dining room of the Château de Saint-Cloud, demolished at the end of the 19th century. Additionally, Barraband collaborated with the architects and designers Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine in the promotion of the Empire style, notably in the decoration of a room, known as the platinum cabinet, constructed in Paris and installed in 1804 in the Casa del Labrador, a neoclassical palace in Aranjuez in Spain. Barraband’s mature career lasted only some eleven years, and just a handful of oil paintings, porcelain works and tapestries by the artist have survived. He is instead best known for his superb, lifelike watercolours of tropical birds, usually based on mounted specimens, which he sometimes exhibited at the Salons. Perhaps his most beautiful works in this vein were several hundred remarkable drawings of exotic birds in watercolour and gouache that he produced for three seminal books by the ornithologist François Levaillant: the Histoire naturelle des perroquets, published between 1801 and 1805, the Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis et des rolliers, suivie des celle des toucans et des barbus, which appeared in 1806, and the Histoire naturelle des promérops et des guêpiers (et des couroucous et touracos, faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis), published in 1807. A friend of the botanical painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Barraband was appointed a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Lyon in 1807, and died there two years later, at the age of forty-one.