Intrepid traveller, pioneering naturalist, famous author, François Levaillant (1753-1824) was a celebrity in his own lifetime. The colourful accounts of his travels in southern Africa in the 1780s were widely read in seven languages. His sumptuous bird books, published in a golden age of natural history book production led by the French, recorded for posterity his extensive bird collections.
Yet he has often been dismissed as a flamboyant Gallic adventurer with a cavalier attitude to the truth. This new study seeks to re-examine this controversial figure against the backdrop of the world of natural history and its practice in the late European Enlightenment. The potent mix of science and commerce is reflected in Levaillant's combining his own enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge about the animal kingdom with active trading in specimens. Although somewhat of an outsider, he is shown as shrewdly negotiating the dangers, upheavals and transformations of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era to achieve his scientific ambitions. New insights into the life of this remarkable man are provided by recently discovered contemporary documents, his story enlivened with illustrations gathered from wide-ranging international sources.
One of the treasures of The Brenthurst Library forms the core of this book: a collection of fifty-eight original watercolour paintings, mostly of birds of prey, the prototypes of published engravings in his Histoire naturelle des Oiseaux d'Afrique. Painted with brilliant clarity under Levaillant's own supervision, these superior illustrations, never before published, are reproduced here to the highest standards. The accompanying bird descriptions, including field observations, are translated into English for the first time specifically for this edition, and are reassessed from the perspective of modern ornithology. Levaillant is revealed as a naturalist ahead of his time, vigorous and exceptionally skilled, whose work laid the foundations of African ornithology.
In publishing this fifth volume in its Third Series of limited-edition Africana, The Brenthurst Press is proud to present a finely produced and lavishly illustrated work, in a tradition Levaillant himself would have recognized, and to provide the opportunity for collectors to acquire a selection from the very costly Oiseaux d'Afrique.
De luxe Edition: 150 copies in half leather, bound under the supervision of Alan Jeffrey, Binder at The Brenthurst Library, by Graphicraft, Cape Town in half leather: navy Nigerian Sokoto tanned goatskin and hand-marbled paper, top edge gilded, hand-sewn head-and-tail bands, rounded spine with 5 raised bands and tooled in gold, in a lined slipcase covered in navy leather and hand-marbled paper. Subscribers to the de luxe edition will, additionally, be given 2 specially selected bird plates (out of print)
- 502 pages with bibliography and index;
- 300 mm deep x 240 mm wide;
- over 250 illustrations in full colour;
- printed on 130 g/m² Lanagrain Blanc, 25% cotton, pH neutral paper,
- manufactured in France for The Brenthurst Press;
- the 58 bird plates printed on 150 g/m² Phoenixmotion Xantur;
- the separate map printed on 115 g/m Lanagrain Blanc.