Two watercolours representing an owl on a branch




 Signed and dated on the branch: J.G.Prêtre.1825 


Dimensions of each drawing:  Height : 16 15/16 in. ; Width : 15 ½ in.



These preparatory drawings were realized for “the new compilation of colored birds on paper, to complete the illuminated drawing boards of Buffon, published by C.J. Tumminck and the Baron Meiffren Laugier de Chartrouse, chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, made by Huet and Prêtre, painters who were attached to the Museum of Natural History and to the important piece of work of the Egyptian commission, Paris, F.G. Levrault, 1828”.


These watercolours are the preparatory work before engraving.



Jean-Gabriel PRETRE (Active between 1820 and 1840)


With the painter Nicolas Huet (1770-1830), he was painter at the Natural History Museum and collaborated with the Emperor’s wife Josephine’s menagerie as well.


Buffon got in mind to do much better then the first ornithologists and made a plan that “corresponded to his genius”. It consisted on gathering for his engraving collection all the birds he could get, without distinction of climates nor species, and to form a sort of a portable and durable cabinet, even more complete than any other collector could gather and preserve.


He asked to Daubenton the young to direct the project. The number of drawings boards can be counted to 975 with 1239 birds’ figures. No other collection is that complete.


Buffon’s illuminated boards became the fundamental collection collection and classical figure for the ornithology study, the one that is composed of the largest number of species and the most renowned.

Mr. Tumminck and Mr.Laugier gave to the public a collection of illuminated boards that completed Buffon’s work. They made a monthly publication with six boards deliveries after Nicolas Huet and J.G Prêtre’s drawings, who surveyed the illuminating.


This publication was dedicated to Mr. the Baron Cuvier, who mentioned in this introduction: “… The figures of natural History need to follow particular rules. They need to represent the object in a certain way. It is necessary to distinguish easily all the line of characters as we could distinguish them clearly in real. So, the artist must ban any forced position and shortcuts that would transform the real proportions. It is important to make it clear with a good enlightening, showing the true colours without profound shadows. The principal is to show the subject with an attentive exactitude towards all the details, the different curves, and all the anatomic characteristics.

Those rules were indicated to the artists and were always closely followed. In those boards, birds are always represented in their natural length when the format allows them to do so.