65. [French school]
Attributed to LE MOYNE DE MORGUES, Jacques
Drawing, watercolour and gouache over black chalk, 10,1 x 17,8 cm, vellum, unsigned, with ms. caption "Monticola Solitaria / Museicanidi".
Some of the rarest and most exceptional botanical and ornithological drawings of the 16th century were made by the Huguenot artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (ca. 1533-1588). The varied circumstances of Le Moyne’s artistic production must surely be unique in the history of art; although large periods of his career are undocumented, he appears to have worked as a court artist in France, under Charles IX, is known to have travelled to Florida in 1564 as official artist and cartographer on the ill-fated French attempt to establish a colony there, and to have ended his career as a highly regarded botanical artist in Elizabethan London, where his patrons included Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Mary Sidney. This exquisite gouache embodies and combines in a most original manner three diverse artistic traditions: the first is that of manuscript illumination in Le Moyne’s native France; the second is the recording of exotic and native flora, fauna and cultures, which was the artistic expression of the late 16th-century fascination with exploration and scientific investigation; and the third is the purely aesthetic love of flowers and gardens which was so apparent in French and Elizabethan court culture. The rediscovery of the talent of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues as a botanical artist is also relatively recent. In 1922 Spencer Savage, librarian of the Linnean Society, recognised that a group of 59 watercolours of plants on 33 sheets, originally contained in a small volume with a late 16th-century French brown calf binding and purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1856, were in fact the work of this previously little-known artist. Much more recently a folder of 27 individual sheets was sold at Sotheby's incorporating the artist’s only known drawings of birds (sold at New York, Sotheby’s, 21 January 2004, lots 29-55). The present study of a blue rock thrush shows a more than striking affinity to "Study of a Yellowhammer", sold in the same sale (lot 48). These similarities include the minute rendering for the claws, the addition of shadows creating a highly sophisticated trompe l’oeil effect, the nuanced colouring and the idiosyncratic calligraphic orthography below the image. Although a large part of his botanical drawings are now in the collections of the British Museum and the V&A, Le Moyne de Morgue's bird drawings are a much sought-after rarity on the art market. The drawing contains a manuscript inscription "Jacques Le Moyne De Morgues" and number 16, probably by the hand of a later collector.
Ref. P. Hulton, An Album of Plant Drawings by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, in: The British Museum Quarterly 26 (1962), pp. 37-39. - P. Hulton, The Works of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, A Huguenot Artist in France, Florida and England, 2 vols., London 1977.
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