(Aubusson 1768 - Lyon 1809)
A Male Blue-Throated Barbet (Megalaima asiatica)
Signed Barraband in brown ink in the centre.
Numbered No.21 in pencil at the lower right, and 24 / x245 in pencil at the upper right.
522 x 386 mm. (20 1/2 x 15 1/4 in.)
As one writer has noted of Barraband’s watercolours for Levaillant, ‘they are considered among the most beautiful bird drawings in existence. Barraband often showed his subject in profile, perched on a short tree branch jutting into the empty space of the sheet; no one else equalled his mastery in the rendering of feathers, in evoking their fragility, stiffness, or incredible lightness. He displayed a preference for harmonies of blue and green…The evocative power of these realistic and precise works, featuring all the colours of the rainbow, is almost dream-inducing.’
The present sheet was once part of the exceptional collection of French ornithological watercolours of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries - including some three hundred works by Jacques Barraband - assembled in the 1920s and 1930s by the French industrialist and bibliophile Marcel Jeanson (1885-1942).
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.
Thence by descent until 1988
Jeanson sale (‘Bibliothèque Marcel Jeanson, deuxieme partie: Ornithologie’), Monaco, Sotheby’s, 16 June 1988, lot 241
W. Graham Arader, New York