|European Watercolors — Vultureácirca 1670|
Published: Paris circa 1670
Medium: Gouache on vellum with gold fillets.
Dimensions: h:á15.8" xáw:á11"
Provenance: The Marcel Jeanson Collection.
Nicolas Robert (1614-1685) was one of the greatest natural history artists of the seventeenth century, and his work established standards combining scientific accuracy and aesthetic appeal that influenced generations of artists and won the respect and patronage of the French royal family. Robert created a vast, exquisite body of work for the French Crown. Along with other artists, Robert was commissioned by Gaston d'Orleans, brother of Louis XIII, to create watercolors of the rare plants and exotic birds he had assembled in his garden at Blois and the MÚnagerie at Versailles. Robert's talent was recognized quickly as being superior to that of other artists working for the royal family, and after Gaston d'Orleans's death, he was quickly placed under the patronage of the Sun King, Louis XIV. As a reward for the stunning works he painted for the king's personal collection, Robert was named "Peintre Ordinaire du Roi" in 1666, a title that confirmed his continuing fame and patronage.
Robert was the first significant contributor to a collection of fine watercolors on vellum that became known, collectively, as the Velins du Roi (the King's Vellums). The watercolors Robert completed under Gaston d'Orleans and then Louis XIV for the royal collection fed the interest and provided the inspiration for the great masters of botanical and ornithological art who followed: Jean Joubert, Nicholas Marechal, Gerard van Spaendonck and, of course, Pierre-Joseph RedoutÚ. Thus the extremely fine print work of Parisian natural historians and flower painters as late as 1825 can be traced directly back to the strength of Robert's tradition.
Probably executed for noble patrons, these stunning ornithological watercolors date from around the time of Robert's period in the court of Louis XIV. The birds are defined with subtle modulations of delicate hues, and the simple yet monumental compositions combine flawless artistry with Robert's characteristic attention to scientific precision. The vast majority of Robert's watercolors are housed in public institutions, including the Musee d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, the British Museum in London, and the Hofbibliothek in Vienna. These watercolors represent an unusual opportunity to obtain original, unique works by a highly important and exceptionally talented artist. The brilliance that made the Sun King recognize Robert as the preeminent watercolorist of his day is still evident in these pristine and charming works.