The Royal Treatment: JACQUES BARRABAND (FRENCH, 1767-1809)

PAINTER OF NAPOLEON & JOSEPHINE’S AVIARY

Jacques Barraband’s watercolors of birds are masterpieces of French ornithological illustration. Barraband’s most stunning compositions for Francois Levaillant’s lavish and striking Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets remain icons of the ornithological painting of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Images of African birds were popular in early 19th-century France for their exoticism and general interest in Napoleon’s campaigns in Africa. Apart from their undoubted beauty, they display a scientific accuracy that few ornithological artists have matched since. The meticulous hand-colored engravings in Levaillant’s publications could not reach the delicate modulations of tone and color, the fine lines, and perfect draftsmanship of Barraband’s original watercolors, which are exceptional in their richness and tonal variation. Each feather is described by dozens of parallel lines, providing remarkable detail and naturalistically textured color.

The key to Barraband’s renown was his success as an illustrator of luxurious bird books. In addition to illustrating Francois Levaillant’s Histoire naturelle des perroquets (1801-05), Barraband also executed the original watercolors for the ornithologist’s Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis (Birds of Paradise, 1801-06). These splendid watercolors demonstrate Barraband’s unparalleled ability to render splendidly realistic images of exotic birds of all forms.

Barraband studied under Joseph Malaine (1745-1809), a flower painter to King Louis XVI, and afterward worked as a draftsman in the Gobelin Tapestry Manufactory, best known as a royal factory supplying the court of the French monarchs since Louis XIV. The artist exhibited at the Paris Salons of 1798 through 1806 and provided drawings at Sevres in 1806.

In addition, Barraband decorated the dining room in Napoleon’s chateau at St. Cloud. Later, Empress Josephine purchased several gouaches of birds by the artist from the Salon of 1808 and commissioned paintings of extraordinary varieties found at the aviary of Malmaison.

These flawless watercolors demonstrate Barraband combined with a high order artistic ability, good taste, and a rare aesthetic sense.


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