Jean Gautier (French, 19th-century) Shell Study I
Jean Gautier (French, 19th-century)
Shell Study I
Watercolor on paper
Signed lower left: J Gautier 1844
Paper size: 10 1/4 x 14 1/2 in
Frame size: 17 3/4 x 21 1/2 in
An accomplished artist of flowers and still lifes, Jean Gautier debuted at the prestigious Paris Salon exhibition in 1835. The abilities that he drew on in composing his meticulously detailed, flawless botanical work were ideally suited for the representation of shells in all their intricacy. This pair of watercolors display Gautier’s singular talents for painting a remarkable amount of beautiful detail in the challenging medium of watercolor, and his shells are modeled with delicate modulations in subtle color. Although these watercolors were clearly intended as prototypes for an unidentified printed series, with an emphasis on scientific classification, their magnificence is undeniable, the natural beauty of shells needing no embellishment.
The great 19th-century interest in shells was part of a tradition in which gifted artists pursued their interests in the natural world with a zeal and ability that is rarely found today, and collectors responded with equal fascination. The explosion of interest in shells and their correct classification began in the late 18th century, stimulated, to a degree, by the beautiful examples brought back by the various Pacific voyagers. Exhibitions and printed works by authors such as Thomas Martyn (“The Universal Conchologist”: 1784-92), Captain Thomas Brown, Emanuel Mendes da Costa, John Mawe, George Perry, Lovell Augustus Reeve, George Brettingham Sowerby, William Swainson, William Wood, and others, fueled a common interest in conchology. These two watercolors rank among the most accomplished depictions in the field, as Gautier was able to convey masterfully the beauty and intricacy of shells.
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