Description & Technical information

This large watercolour by Jacques Barraband is a preparatory study for one of the 197 engraved plates in François Levaillant’s two-volume 'Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis et des rolliers, suivie des celle des toucans et des barbus', appearing in reverse in the published work. The drawing depicts the blue-throated barbet (Megalaima asiatica), a member of the Asian barbet family of birds native to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Characterized by bright green, blue and red feathers, barbets get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills. 

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). 

Period:  Late 18th century to early 19th century
Origin:  French
Medium: Watercolour and gouache over an underdrawing in black chalk
Signature: 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.

Dimensions: 52.2 x 38.6 cm (20¹/₂ x 15¹/₄ inches)
Provenance: Marcel Jeanson, Paris
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
Private collection.

Literature: François Levaillant, Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis et des rolliers, suivie des celle des toucans et des barbus, Vol.II, Paris, 1806, pl.21.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints