Mammals and Birds from Australia Famous Nicolas Baudin Expedition from Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes

An extremely rare early set of Mammals and Birds from Australia.  A fine collector's set for those interested in early Australian flora and fauna prints.

These rare and decorative prints come from Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes...' (Voyage of discovery to Southern lands...), the work illustrating Nicolas Baudin's expedition. At the time, the French were the most progressive at sending teams of artists & scientists around the world with their explorers.

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, French navigator Nicolas Baudin led two ships carrying 22 scientists and more than 230 officers and crew on a three-and-a-half-year voyage to the 'Southern Lands', charting coasts, studying the natural environment and recording encounters with indigenous peoples. It was one of the most lavishly equipped scientific expeditions ever to leave Europe and it sailed into Sydney in 1802.

Inspired by the Enlightenment's hunger for knowledge, Baudin's expedition collected well in excess of 100,000 specimens (including live animals), produced more than 1,500 drawings and published the first complete chart of Australia.

Baudin's artists, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit, painted remarkable portraits of Aboriginal people and produced some of the earliest European views of Australian fauna. An integral part of the French scientific project, these exquisite artworks reveal the sense of wonder this strange new world inspired. 

Over the past three decades, the story of Baudin, his artists Lesueur and Petit, and their expedition to Australia in the opening decade of the nineteenth century, has moved from being an obscure curiosity to a well-known, well-researched and much-discussed episode in early Australian colonial history – and a significant event in first contact art. Lesueur and Petit could be described as ‘accidental artists”. They were nominally appointed as ‘assistant gunners’ for the voyage, but once the three official artists absconded to the Ile de France (Mauritius) in April 1801, six months into this epic journey, Lesueur and Petit became the official pictorial chroniclers for the expedition.

Thanks to exacting archival work, primarily by Jacqueline Bonnemains, we know a great deal about the lives of the two artists. Born within six months of each other, they were aged in their early twenties when they joined the expedition. Charles-Alexandre Lesueur was apparently self-trained and had a medical condition that saved him from military service, while Nicolas-Martin Petit appears to have received some training in the studio of the famous neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David. Both artists learned on the job as the voyage progressed, acquiring new skills that were commensurate with the activities of natural science artists. This was especially true of Lesueur, who developed a very close relationship with one of the expedition’s zoologists, François Péron. After the deaths of the other appointed zoologists, Stanislas Levillain and René Maugé, Lesueur also fulfilled the role of assistant senior zoologist.

In 1807, three years after the Géographe returned to France, Péron and Lesueur published the first volume of the Atlas of the Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes with 41 lavish plates. Petit did not live to see this publication, as he died in 1804 from complications following a minor street accident shortly after his return to France.

The drawings and paintings from the Baudin expedition present a particularly interesting case of ‘pictorial records in transition’. They not only mark the changing skill levels of the artists and their developing technical facility, they also reveal changes in their philosophical and aesthetic attitudes over the period of several years that separated the moment of first observation from the final pictorial realisation presented to the public. The purpose of the drawings also evolved: early illustrations were designed primarily for Baudin’s personal journal, whereas later illustrations were intended for a formal atlas published with Imperial patronage to commemorate the expedition. Although the design of many of these published illustrations can be attributed to a particular artist - Lesueur or Petit - the final work was a collaborative product that bore the impact of different artistic talents and competing ideologies.

Nouvelle-Hollande - Nelle Galles du Sud. / Platypuses - Ornithorinque Brun

When the platypus was first encountered by Europeans in 1798, a pelt and sketch were sent back to Great Britain by Captain John Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales. British scientists' initial hunch was that the attributes were a hoax. George Shaw, who produced the first description of the animal in the Naturalist's Miscellany in 1799, stated it was impossible not to entertain doubts as to its genuine nature, and Robert Knox believed it might have been produced by some Asian taxidermist. It was thought that somebody had sewn a duck's beak onto the body of a beaver-like animal. Shaw even took a pair of scissors to the dried skin to check for stitches.

Nouvelle-Hollande - nouvelle galles du sud. / Dasuure a longue queue dasyurus macrourus geof 

In 1770, Captain Cook collected quolls on his exploration of the east coast of Australia, adopting an Aboriginal name for the animals. Although the origin of Cook's specimens are unclear, the word and its variants je-quoll, jaquol or taquol are derived from the word dhigul in the language of the Guugu Yimithirr people of far north Queensland. No evidence indicates the local indigenous people used the word in the Sydney area. They were likened in appearance to a polecat or marten in the earliest reports, the tiger quoll being called "spotted marten" and eastern quoll "spotted opossum", but by 1804, the names "native fox", "native cat" and "tiger cat" had been adopted by early settlers; quolls are still called "marsupial foxes" or "marsupial cats".

Nouvelle Hollande - Iles Decres / Dwarf Emu on Kangaroo Island 

Kangaroo Island Emu family: dominant father protecting the demure seated mother, surrounded by playful chicks. However, historians and scientists now assert that the seated emu is a King Island emu, and also a male, and the chicks were most likely drawn from mainland emu specimens. Rather than a family unit, these are three species.  

François Péron, the naturalist on Baudin's voyage, assessed the abundance of the King Island emu based on the hearsay of a sealer, Daniel Cooper, who reported having killed or caught more than 300 in six months. Péron's published description of 'swarms' of these birds, which could be eaten and used for grease, is grossly inaccurate. King Island emus were extinct a year after this print was published.

Nouvelle Hollande ~ Le Wombat / King Island wombat, New Holland

One of the most attractive and much sought after prints of wombats, a pair of wombats with 4 offspring clambering about. This is completely inaccurate because Wombats being marsupials, don't actually have litters, they usually give birth to a single Joey at once. All the more charming because of the inaccuracy.

Nouvelle Hollande Kangaroo a bandes / Banded Hare-wallaby, New Holland

The banded hare-wallaby, mernine, or munning (Lagostrophus fasciatus) is a marsupial currently found on the Islands of Bernier and Dorre off western Australia. The authors, zoologist François Péron and illustrator Charles Lesueur, described a specimen collected at Bernier Island during their visit to the region in 1801, naming the new species as Kangurus faciatus.

Timor, Rhinolophe Crumenifere / Flying Fox Bats, Timor Island

Pteropus (suborder Yinpterochiroptera) is a genus of megabats which are among the largest bats in the world. They are commonly known as fruit bats or flying foxes, among other colloquial names. They live in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, East Africa, and some oceanic islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The type species of the genus is the Mauritian flying fox, Pteropus niger (described as Vespertilio vampyrus niger by Robert Kerr in 1792). The decision to designate P. niger as the type species was made by the ICZN through their plenary powers over biological nomenclature. "Pteropus" comes from Ancient Greek "pterón" meaning "wing" and "poús" meaning "foot." The phrase "flying fox" has been used to refer to Pteropus bats since at least 1759.

Charles Alexander Lesueur
Mammals and Birds from Australia ~ Famous Nicolas Baudin Expedition ( set of 7 )
Publication Place / Date
Image Dimensions
Paris / 1824
32 by 25 cm. ( each plate )
Hand coloring
G+ / Study images carefully
Product Price
Product Number
USD 4,800
SKU #S1.Australia