AUDEBERT, Jean Baptiste (1759-1800) and Louis Jean Pierre VIEILLOT (1748-1831). Oiseaux dores ou a reflets Metalliques. Paris: Imprimerie Crapelet for Desray, An XI, 1802

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AUDEBERT, Jean Baptiste (1759-1800) and Louis Jean Pierre VIEILLOT (1748-1831). Oiseaux dores ou a reflets Metalliques. Paris: Imprimerie Crapelet for Desray, An XI, 1802

2 volumes. 4to (13 4/8 x 9 6/8 inches). Half-titles with general title of the work, title-pages with volume titles, publisher's forward, list of subscribers and notice to the binder, 190 fine color-printed engraved plates (one folding, 5 double-page), many heightened in gold, by and after Audebert, and printed by Langlois (marginal foxing and staining to text and plates, severest on end leaves and verso of plates, fore-edges of Birds of Paradise plates dampstained). Later green morocco backed, marbled paper boards, gilt (a bit scuffed)

Provenance: with the later gift inscription to "Thomas A. Powys on his birthday March 18./60. with the best wishes of his very affecte J.N. & G.C. Fazakerley"; with Charles W. Traylen, his invoice dated 3rd August, 1950, sold to; W.H. Phelps, Esq, Jr.; with Sotheby's 26th June, 1998, lot 554

First edition, limited issue, one of 100 quarto sets printed on papier velin with the captions printed in black, of a total edition of 313, which included 200 folio sets with the plate captions printed in gold, 12 folio sets with the plate captions and the text printed in gold, one set printed in gold on vellum, of "one of the most beautiful books of its era" (Fine Bird Books). Audebert's ambitious color-printing process, first employed in his Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis (1799-1800), is used again with stunning results for Oiseaux dores. Even the gold was applied mechanically to the plumage of the iridescent birds, creating a shimmering effect "like medieval illuminations" (Buchanan).

The work was issued in 32 parts over 26 months and is divided into 10 sections. Illustrating the extraordinary beauty of the most spectacular species of hummingbirds, jacamars and birds of paradise.

Anker says of the magnificent plates, which are heightened with gold, that the 'colours of the birds and their handsome appearance have evidently been the cause of their selection for inclusion in the book. The plates with the bird portraits are in beautiful colours; in this respect they are among the best colour prints found in ornithology'.

The plates were etched by Audebert from his own designs and those of 'les plus belles peintres de Paris et de Londres'; Louis Bouquet assisted with the colouring and Langlois with the printing in oil-colours, and the whole process used in the printing of the plates was invented by Audebert. All the colours were printed from a single plate, and oil paint was substituted for the more common gouache. Originally a miniature painter, Audubert became interested in natural history after meeting Gigot-d'Orex in 1789, a wealthy collector of specimens, who employed him to paint some of them. Tragically Audebert died at the young age of 41, and this is the last book he completed before his death. The text is largely by Vieillot who continued the work using Audebert's notes after the latter's death in 1800. 

The general title actually appears on the half-titles, each volume treating several genera and having its own title-page: (I) Histoire naturelle et generale des colibris, oiseaux-mouches, jacamars et poromerops; and (II) Histoire naturelle et generale des grimpereaux et des oiseaux de paradis. Audebert died as publication of the text was just beginning. Vieillot was chiefly responsible for the final text, which he based on notes Audebert left behind. Anker 14; Buchanan Nature into Art 105; Fine Bird Books 56; Nissen IVB 47; Ronsil 103