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Friday, April 15, 2011

Painting of the Day: Pear. Jacques le Moyne de Morgues (Dieppe ca. 1533-1588)

This magnificent botanical painting, executed in watercolor and gouache, is from only the fifth florilegium identified to be by Jacques Le Moyne to date. The paintings from this set are roundly considered to be his finest achievement. Le Moyne was among a rare and exclusive group of artists who specialized in the creation of florilegia. Most examples were printed, following in the tradition of the herbals of such authors as Leonhart Fuchs, but a few original painted florilegia were commissioned by wealthy amateur botanists and aristocrats who wished to have pictorial records of the valuable plants to be found in their gardens. 

The extraordinary career and oeuvre of the Huguenot artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues have only relatively recently been defined and described (see Paul Hulton, The Work of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, A Huguenot Artist in France, Florida, and England, 2 vols., London, 1977). The varied circumstances of his artistic production must surely be unique in the history of art; although large periods of his career are undocumented, he appears to have worked as a court artist in France, under Charles IX, is known to have traveled to Florida in 1564, as official artist and cartographer to the ill-fated French attempt to establish a colony there, and to have ended his career as a highly regarded botanical artist in Elizabethan London, where his patrons included Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Mary Sidney.

Le Moyne was born around 1533, in Dieppe. The first thirty years of his life are undocumented, but it seems reasonable to suppose that he trained as an artist in his native town, which was at the time a notable center both for cartography and for illumination. Hulton believed that Le Moyne probably worked at the court of the French King Charles IX, although there is no documentary record to that effect. Le Moyne's highly important account of this transatlantic voyage, known today from a Latin edition published in Frankfurt in 1591 under the title Brevis narratio eorum quae in Florida Americai provincia Gallis acciderunt, does, however, clearly indicate that it was the King who instructed the artist to accompany the expedition, headed by the notable mariners Jean Ribault and Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, as official recording artist and cartographer. Although only one original drawing by Le Moyne of an American subject is known today -- the depiction of Athore showing Laudonniere the Marker Column set up by Ribault, executed in watercolor and gouache on vellum, now in the New York Public Library -- the Brevis narratio, published by Theodore de Bry as the second volume of his great series of publications on voyages to the New World, contains forty-two engraved illustrations and maps made on the spot by Le Moyne. The text fully describes and analyses these images, and this volume constitutes a major landmark in the literature of the early exploration of the Americas. 

Laudonniere's expedition, though resulting in the production of the fascinating Le Moyne/de Bry publication and an important map of the coastal regions of Florida, was ultimately a disaster; the good relations initially established with the Indian tribes inhabiting the territories around the settlement site at St. Johns soon soured, in addition to which various members of the French party became disaffected, and revolted against their leaders. The final coup de grace came when a Spanish force attacked Laudonniere's stronghold at Fort Caroline, and in the end Le Moyne was one of only fifteen or so survivors of the original party to return safely to Europe; having lost their way, they sailed half-starved into Swansea Bay in mid-November 1565, and finally reached Paris early in 1566. But life in France soon became untenable, due to the Huguenot massacres, and in 1572 Le Moyne fled to England. Until well into the present century, our knowledge of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues was extremely limited, and largely confined to the footnotes of inaccessible ethnograph.

Offered at $325,000

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