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A remarkable book with an equally remarkable history, the 388 gouache paintings reproduced in Les Oiseaux de France are absolutely magnificent - full of life, colour and movement. It is to be hoped that the publication of this volume will provoke a reappraisal of Reboussin as a bird artist of the highest rank, whose work deserves as much acclaim as that afforded to Bruno Liljefors, Peter Scott and Lars Jonsson.
History of Les Oiseaux de France
In 1935 Marcel Jeanson commissioned Reboussin (who was Master Painter to the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris) to portray all the birds of France in their natural habitat. In 1942 Marcel Jeanson died, but Madame Jeanson allowed Reboussin to continue his work until his own death in 1965. By then he had painted a staggering 416 species!
The paintings lay in storage for over 30 years. Then, in 1998, Pierre Jeanson (son of Marcel) discovered the preface written by his father in 1941, which led him to prepare this great body of work for reproduction in book form, culminating in the publication of Oiseaux de France in late 1999.
Sumptuously printed (on fine art paper) and bound in Italy, in a slipcase which carries a reproduction of the dust jacket.
pp7-18: Introduction (parallel French and English text) by Pierre Jeanson; "Draft of a Preface for The Birds of France" by Marcel Jeanson [written in 1941]; "Draft of a Preface for The Birds of France" by Roger Reboussin ; "Roger Reboussin observed birds, loved them and painted them" [appreciation by Claude Aguttes]; pp19-349 - the paintings - "Les rapaces" [28 full page, 14 half-page, 2 double-page spreads]; "Les palmipedes" [11; 42; 2]; "Les echassiers (et limicoles)" [25; 62; 3]; "Les colombins" [3; 2; -]; "Les gallinaces" (3; 10; -]; "Les grimpeurs" [14; 4; -]; "Les passereaux" [121; 39; 6]; pp 351-381 - Liste alphabetique des espece inexistantes en France il y a 50 ans; liste alphabetique des especes; autres especes europeeennes non considerees comme francaises et donc, non representees par Roger Reboussin; list of species in taxonomic sequence, with comments and index to the paintings; "Tout l'art de Reboussin" par F.Goy; "Roger Reboussin" par R.Wolff; bibliography.
'It is an extremely rare treat to be handed a volume of work by an artist about whom one knows absolutely nothing at all, and about whose work one is immediately enthralled. The 388 plates by Roger Reboussin (1881-1965) in Les Oiseaux de France have, for the past few days, been providing me with just such a treat.
Alongside a training in fine art and a working life as a painter, Reboussin developed a passion for hunting and ornithology. He travelled extensively in his native France, venturing more widely to North and West Africa, the Baltic and beyond observing and sketching in the field almost every day. In 1935, at the invitation of his friend Marcel Jeanson, a grand chasseur and passionate collector of books, he embarked on the ambitious enterprise of portraying in their natural habitat every one of the 416 species of bird then to be found in France. But the project was never published in book form as intended. Only now, 58 years after the death of his father (and 35 years after Reboussin's death) has Jeanson's son been able to complete the project.
Reboussin's field knowledge, combined with his bold brushwork and painterly instincts created some wonderful images. The elegantly graphic portrayal of a wing-stretching black stork. The dynamic interpretation of a flight of brent geese heading into wind. The much more stylised terns that seem like a homage to Audubon (an artist whose work he must have been familiar with). The charming vignette of house martins gathering over a mere, as if it had come straight out of the sketchbook. The monumental white-tailed eagle, which seems to owe more than a little to Liljefors (another artist whose work he must have known). Every plate reveals Reboussin's fundamental understanding of birds and their place in the environment.
The key to the impressiveness of Reboussin's work is revealed in his own draft preface written in 1941:
" The whole subject of my assignment demanded that I should paint as an impressionist ...but that I should be, at the same time, a portrait painter ... synthesising the multifaceted nature of birds, in order to create .. its character as a species [and] nuance of spirit which personifies it in its movements and particularly in its looks."
It is a concept, or maxim, that all artists painting birds today might do well to copy into their sketchbook to refer to when they next venture out, and pin to the studio wall as a reminder before beginning the next painting. Better still would be to buy the book. Fortunately, I now have the book and the maxim is already written out and pinned to the studio wall.' Bruce Pearson, wildlife artist