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Jean Louis Prevost (1760-1810)

Collection des Fleurs et des Fruits
Paris, 1805
Stipple engravings with original hand-coloring.
These exquisite engravings, from the 1805 “Collection des Fleurs et des Fruits”, present Prévost's mastery both of decorative design and descriptive rigor. This edition of the “Collection”, lauded as one of the greatest early nineteenth-century French flower books and also one of the earliest stipple-engraved and color-printed books produced, was never bound as a volume. "The book was compiled to assist designers of china, toiles and chintzes and is not primarily botanical in intention. The most striking plates show
several different flowers grouped together in a bouquet; but though the arrangements may appear artificial, and the flowers doubtfully matched as to season, the drawing is accurate and the observation exact" (Blunt in Great Flower Books). Blunt went on to declare the “Collection” “at least the equal to Redoute.”
During his lifetime, Prévost was a successful and widely renowned botanical painter, respected both for his watercolor and oil paintings and for his engraved works. He was a pupil of Jean Jacques Bachelier in Paris, and became a member of the Académie de Saint Luc. His paintings were consistently exhibited in the prestigious Paris Salon, and his original watercolors served as models for a series of sumptuous color-plate
botanical books.
His "Collection des Fleurs et des Fruits" is one of the greatest French flower books of the early nineteenth century. Unlike Redouté, his great contemporary, Prévost's intention with his works was not primarily scientific. His great "Collection," for example, was intended as a reference work for china and fabric pattern designers, and the aesthetic sensibility dominates any documentary goal in his lavishly executed compositions. In these engravings, Prévost demonstrates his mastery of the traditional still-life genre. The delicate, detailed and highly accurate depiction of each fruit and leaf exemplifies the artist's exceptional rendering skill, and the nuanced use of stipple engraving to create shadow and light makes the subject appear to emerge from the paper with vibrant three-dimensionality. The luminosity of stipple engraving is particularly suited to the reproduction of botanical detail. It is essentially a technique of etching a copper plate with a dense grid of dots that can be modulated to convey delicate gradations of color and tone. The plates were painted with watercolor before each impression, creating a rich and subtle color quality that is deeply pressed into the paper.
The most delicate highlights and details are then added by hand to finish each print according to the original watercolor that Prévost provided. This complex and delicate printing process combines the technical virtuosity and aesthetic sensitivity that characterizes this great age of French botanical works.