Saturday, 21 April 2018

The La Pérouse's Voyage: the plates

The artists

He will direct the draughtsmen embarked on board the frigates, to take views of all remarkable places and countries, portraits of the natives of different parts, their dresses, ceremonies, games, buildings, boats and vessels, and all the productions of the sea and land, in each of the three kingdoms of nature, if he shall think that drawings of them will render the descriptions more intelligible.
Instructions to La Pérouse (Voyage, vol 1, p.38 of English translation):

 Gaspard Duché de Vancy (b.1756) was the official artist of the expedition.

His presence confirms the prestigious nature of the voyage, since he was a society artist who enjoyed the patronage of Court circles -  including that of the expedition's sponsor Jean-Joseph Laborde.  He had been raised in Vienna and executed several royal portraits, including Stanislas of Poland and Marie-Antoinette (no longer extant?). Although his pictures were meticulously observed, his formal classical training is evident; it is often remarked that he viewed the natives of the Pacific with "des yeux versaillais".

Watercolour by  Duché de Vancy, showing the parc de Blossac in Poitier

François-Michel Blondela (
b.1761), was lieutenant on board the Astrolabe and unofficial artist.  He had entered naval service in 1777, and subsequently served in America and the West Indies. La Pérouse  commended him highly : "He applies himself with a degree of assiduity, and executes with an intelligence, order and neatness, that are deserving of the highest encomium." (vol. 2, p.135)

Guillaume Prévost (b.1738) volunteered to take part in the voyage as official "Botanical illustrator", for 1,000 livres a year. He was assistant to the doctor and naturalist La Martinière on board the Astrolabe.  He came from a family of flower painters; he and his brother had worked on the famous "Hortus Cellensis".  His young nephew Jean-Louis-Robert Prévost embarked on the Boussole.  It would seem that Jean-Louis-Robert  was the more talented and industrious of the two; his surviving drawings include not only flowers but birds, fishes and shells.
See:  Gabriela Lamy,  "Les Prévost, peintres de fleurs..." Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles, online article of 16th February 2017.

Plates  from the Atlas

Here is the notice for the collection of surviving drawings from the expedition, most of which are included among the engravings for the Atlas: 

SH 352. Recueil des dessins exécutés, durant l'expédition du comte Jean-François Galaup DE LA PÉROUSE par DUCHÉ DE VANCY, le lieutenant de frégate BLONDELA et PRÉVOST (1785-1787)
Bibliothèque de la Marine, G 201-219 ; Dépôt des cartes et plans, SH 257-391
Service historique de la Défense. Département de la bibliothèque. Vincennes, Val-de-Marne

The images which follow are downloaded from the 1797 Atlas, reproduced in Biodiversity Heritage Library:

Numbers refer to the originals in the archives at Vincennes:

No.1: View of the Island of St. Catherine in Brazil, by Duché de Vancy, dated November 1785

No.2: Dress of the Inhabitants of the town of Concepción, on the coast of Chile. Drawn from life by Duché de Vancy, in March 1786. 

No.3 and no.4: Lianne of Chile, called by the inhabitants Guilboqui. [Male and female vines] By the elder Prevost.



No.5. Inhabitants and Monuments of Easter Island, drawn from life by Duché de Vancy, 9th April 1786.

The original drawing is also reproduced on the internet:   

White chalk and ink on paper.
See, Stephen-Chauvet, Easter Island and its Mysteries [ebook]
Plate III, Figure 5. Islanders and monuments on Easter Island. Pencil drawing from nature, April 9 1786, by the artist Duché de Vancy, who accompanied La Pérouse on his voyage around the world. The original drawing, in the archives of the Marine Library, is reproduced here for the first time, thanks to the kindness of Commander Vivielle, curator of the museum. A lithograph, based on this drawing but with some modifications, was published in the Atlas of La Pérouse’s Voyage around the World in 1797, and it is this lithograph that has been reproduced so frequently to date. Notice the facial features of the natives and, in particular, of the women. Similar features are found in later illustrations by other artists. Note to the boat-shaped head covering made of hibiscus twine (anu)...The image is now also available commercially from the Bridgeman Art Library.


No.6: Anchorage of the Vessels, at the Island of Mowee [Maui], drawn by Blondela in 1786. 


No.7. Establishment of the inhabitants of the Port-des-Français [Lituya Bay] for the fishing season, drawn from life by Blondela.

No.8: Interior of Port-des-François [Lituya Bay], drawn from life by Blondela and  no.9: by Duché de Vancy in July 1786.
Neither of these two sketches was engraved for the 1797 Atlas.
Both are available on Getty images, from a later set of engravings.

The original pen & ink wash sketch of the Duché de Vancy picture is also on Wikipedia:
Originally from:

No 10: Blackbird from the Baye-des-François, by J. R. Prévost [' J. R. Prévost fecit']

No.11: Dress of the Inhabitants of Port-des-François on the North-West Coast of America. By Duché de Vancy,  1786.
No 12: Inhabitants of Port-des-François. Drawn from life by  Duché de Vancy in July 1786

No 13: Large sea urchin by J.-R. Prévost 


No.14: Pair of Californian Partridges, watercolour by J.-R. Prevost

No. 15: Promerops or Bee-Eater of  California. "J.-R. Prévost fils pinx."

The coppices and plains are covered with small grey crested partridges, which live in society like those of Europe, but in covies of three or four hundred.  They are fat and excellent.
The trees are inhabited by the most charming birds....we killed and stuffed a bee-eater, which ornithologists have supposed to be peculiar to the old continent. (Voyage, vol. 1, p.411)

The earliest known European images of California to emerge from direct observation are two ornithological drawings, pictures of a California thrasher and a pair of California quail, executed in Monterey in 1786 by Jean-Louis-Robert Prevost, one of the artists who accompanied the famed French navigator La Pérouse, on his final, ill-fated voyage to the South Sea.  Of the two pictures, published eleven years later in the posthumous Voyage de La Pérouse, the latter is more engaging. It shows a male and female of the species posed on the brow of a hill, the pair characteristically active and alert, and in the best tradition of expeditionary art, the illustration is both aesthetically pleasing and accurately drawn.
Antony Kirk, "Picturing California" in Contested Eden (University of California Press 1988) p.358


No 16: View of the town of Macao in China, drawn from life by Duché de Vancy in 1787


No 17: Cavite in the bay of Manilla, by Duché de Vancy, 1787 

No. 18: Costumes of the inhabitants of  Manila ; drawn from life by Duché de Vancy in April 1787 


No. 19: Costumes of the inhabitants of Langle Bay on the Island of  sur l'isle de Chotka. By Duché de Vancy  1787  [now Tomari Bay, Sakhalin Island in Russia]

The bay on which Tomari now stands was visited between July 12 and 14, 1787 by two French frigates, Boussole and Astrolabe, commanded by Lapérouse. The French named it Langle Bay after the captain of the Astrolabe. At that time, it was no more than a small cluster of huts. The French had good relations with the local people who they considered to be in the very distant past of northern Chinese origin, describing them as intelligent, good-looking, and short in stature. The locals were engaged primarily in fishing, hunting, and herding, with hardly any agriculture. They traded regularly with the communities on the Amur River on the mainland and with Japan. Lapérouse gives a very detailed description of his relations with these people in his work Voyage de Laperouse Autour du Monde, published in 1797Wikipedia:"Tomari, Russia"

No. 20: Tombs in the Bay of de Castries on the shore of Eastern Tartary . By Duché de Vancy,  1787 

No. 21(?): Inhabitants of the Bay of de Castries. By Duché de Vancy, August 1787

No 22: Names of islanders in Langle Bay; drawn from life by 
Duché de Vancy, July 1786 / Inhabitants of the Bay of de Castries, from life,  August 1787

No 23:  View of St. Peter & St. Paul at Kamtschatka, from life, by Blondela, September 1787

Illustrations of boats by Blondela

No 24: Canoe of Port-des-Français; Frame of a canoe, to be covered with seal skins
No 25: Paraso, a passage boat of Manila;  Sarambeau, a fishing raft, 1787
No 26: Japanese boats, 1786
No 27: Sampan, a Chinese boat from Macao;  Boat from Formosa
No 28: Canoe of Tchotka; Canoe of Easter Island
No 29: Canoe of Orotchies, natives of the Bay of de Castries;  Canoe of the Bitchies

No 30: Study of seashells by J.-R. Prevost 

Also included by Millet-Mureau in the Atlas were two engravings after drawings by the draughtsman and naval engineer Nicholas Ozanne.  They depict significant incidents in the Voyage, the loss of two ship's boats in Lituya Bay, Alaska and the attack on Langle and his landing party in Samoa.

. Both plates were  engraved by Dequevauviller.

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