Study of Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle by Chazal
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Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788) was a French naturalist, mathematician, biologist, cosmologist and author. Buffon was superintendent for half a century of the Jardin des Plantes, the Royal Gardens at Paris, and based his exhaustive, monumental Histoire Naturelle on its extensive collections of wildlife. His detailed descriptions of hundreds of animals achieved immediate popularity: over 50 French editions, numerous translations, and hundreds of abridgments of his work appeared and influenced science into the 20th century. Begun in 1749, volumes of the Histoire Naturelle continued to be published well beyond the time of Buffon’s death in 1788. Buffon’s publication influenced the next two generations of naturalists, including Jean-Baptiste Lamarack and Charles Darwin. Darwin himself, in his foreword to the 6th edition of the Origin of Species, credited Aristotle with foreshadowing the concept of natural selection but also stated that “the first author who in modern times has treated it in a scientific spirit was Buffon.”
In the early 1830s, René Primevère Lesson (1794-1849), a French surgeon and naturalist, began the task of creating a supplement to Buffon’s monumental work, focusing on species of mammals and birds that had been discovered since the great naturalists’ death. Lesson had previously served as surgeon on the round-the-world voyage of La Coquille (1822-1825) commandeered by Louis Isadore Duperrey. Aside from this endeavor, Lesson also prepared to publish the complete works of Buffon. This exquisite study of eagles was commissioned by Lesson to serve as the model for an engraving in these publications, and is highly faithful to the pioneering work by Buffon. Lesson chose only the most accomplished artists to create illustrations for his projects, such as Antoine Chazal, Edouard Travies, Jean-Gabriel Pretre, Emile Blanchard and Antoine-Charles Vauthier.
Antoine Chazal studied with Gerard Van Spaendonck, the professor of flower painting at the Jardin des Plantes. Chazal was known for his detailed, precise works, such as this delicate study of eagles. Chazal was also a master of drawing and was the professor of iconography at Jardin des Plantes. He found the most success as a flower painting and exhibited flower paintings at the Salon from 1822 to 1853.