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This scarce, originally hand-colored engraving is from one of the most important iconography on fishes of the world ever published. The work, by Georges Cuvier, is entitled Histoire Naturelle des Poissons. The work was published in Paris by F. G. Levrault between 1828 and 1849. The plates in this work are exceptional and noted for the precise engraving and delicacy of the coloring; many of which are heightened with gold and silver. The engravings also feature the correct Linnaen nomenclature of many fishes from Cook’s voyages.
“Cuvier and his assistant, Achille Valenciennes, did not actually see the voyage drawings; instead, they were to be plentifully supplied with tracings and sketched copies by a remarkable traveller, writer and artist called Sarah Bowdich. Together with her husband Thomas Bowdich, she had spent three-and-a-half years in Paris where they became close friends of Cuvier… The Bowdich copies of fish drawn by Georg Forster and other artists are in pencil on now-faded scraps of paper, and include a number of New Zealand species. They are bound in with the original Cuvier manuscript from which emerged the enormous ‘Histoire naturelle des Poissons’ (1824-49) in which some further fish from the Cook voyages were properly described and named…” (Andrews, The Southern Ark p. 57).
“Nearly all that was known about fishes during the first half of the nineteenth century was summarized by Georges Cuvier and his pupil and successor, Achille Valenciennes, in the monumental ‘Histoire Naturelle des Poissons’. … (It) contains descriptions of 4,514 nominal species, the greater portion, approximately two-thirds, written by Valenciennes after the death of Cuvier in 1832. Today the work of Cuvier and Valenciennes is indispensable to systematic ichthyology … In many parts of the world people assisted Cuvier with notes, manuscripts, and particularly specimens. For many years the Jardin des Plantes was the center where all ichthyological materials were deposited. Thus, Cuvier was able to bring together the richest and largest contemporary collection of fishes. Altogether, his vast communication network, huge world-wide collections, and extensive ichthyological library, made Paris the center of ichthyology and Cuvier the foremost ichthyologist in the world” (T.W. Pietsch in ‘Archives of Nat. Hist, 12, 1’).