This extraordinary folio engraving is from Louis Renard’s rare work entitled Poissons Ecrevisses et Crabes, de diverses couleurs et figures extraordinaires, que l’on trouve autour des Isles Moluques et sur les cotes des Terres Australes. The work was published in Amsterdam by Reinier and Josue Ottens in 1754. Each engraving is on uncut, chain-linked, and watermarked paper and features hand-coloring done in the unique style intended by Renard.
It is one of the most desirable works in all of natural history and features marine life from the East Indies that was virtually unknown to Europe at the time. The first publication was done in 1719 and produced only 100 copies. Thirty of these copies were unbound and sold with the copper plates to Ottens publishing firm after Renard’s death. They used the plates to publish an additional 70 copies. This means this is one of 170 engravings ever published from Renard’s original copper plates.
Louis Renard (1678-1746) was a French Huguenot refugee who became a successful book seller and publisher based in Amsterdam, as well as a spy for the British Crown. The plates were engraved after drawings by Samuel Fallours, brought back to Amsterdam from Amboina in the East Indies by Frederik Julius Coyett, son of the Governor Baltazar Coyett. Fallours began his career as a soldier in the service of the Dutch East India Company, and later between 1707 and 1712, held the title of Associate Curate to the clergy. As early as 1703 his artistic abilities were discovered by several important officials, also in the employ of the Company.
“When he (Fallours) showed his portfolio of watercolours to the Directors of the East India Company at Amsterdam, they could or would not believe that such fish really existed. So, to convince these gentlemen, Fallours had written a letter to the Reverend Francois Valentijn (1666-1727), who had also spent many years in the East Indies. In his letter, Fallours asked Valentijn to confirm to the Governors that the fishes which he had painted actually existed. Valentijn complied by writing on August 28th 1715, … `I can assure you in all honesty that in the waters around Ambon and the other islands belonging to the Moluccan Archipelago I have observed a wide variety of fish whose colours are as variegated and brilliant as Fallours has painted. I have seen his watercolours and can vouch that these fishes have been drawn and coloured from life…’. Writing over one hundred years later, Bleeker remarked, ‘Although these figures are partly exaggerated and partly unrecognizable, it later proved that practically every one of them is based on a natural object.’ It was Louis Renard, one of the charges d’affaires of H.M. King George II of England in Amsterdam, who decided to publish this material” (Landwehr, pp. 44-45).