Martinet, François Nicolas
The Artist?], 1773

François Nicolas Martinet engraved illustrations of birds for books by some of the most influential ornithologists in 18th-century France.  Born in 1731, Martinet was...

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François Nicolas Martinet engraved illustrations of birds for books by some of the most influential ornithologists in 18th-century France.  Born in 1731, Martinet was trained as an engineer and draftsman.  Engraving illustrations for books probably began as a secondary profession, but as his popularity and output grew it must have consumed the majority of his time.  Martinet's son Alexandre eventually assisted him and made many engravings, as is known from signatures and dates on the prints.  Martinet also had two sisters, Angélique and Marie Thérèse, who were engravers as well, but it is not known if they worked with him.  Towards the end of his career, Martinet drew upon his experience in engraving birds for others to publish his own ornithology books, producing plates until his death sometime in the late 1780s or early 1790s (sources disagree on the year).

To understand the significance of François Martinet's work, it is important first to recognize the difficulties involved in producing illustrations of birds in the 18th century.  This provides a foundation for viewing the development of Martinet’s bird illustrations and their contribution to works that became classics in the history of ornithology and makes possible a fuller appreciation of the beautiful hand-colored plates in Ornithologie, the folio reproduced in this digital edition.  

Bird illustrations in the 18th century

In the 1700s most of the illustrators, engravers, and other skilled craftsmen and -women who worked on bird illustrations for books were generally considered to be quite separate from the “fine” artists who made paintings of birds for their artistic beauty.  This distinction reflects the fact that ornithological books to that point had been produced primarily for the identification and classification of the birds, and draftsmanship was more important than artistic composition and other aesthetic considerations (although there are many notable exceptions in which both science and art are achieved).  Printing was in black and white, and any coloring had to be added by hand to the individual prints afterward.  Thus, illustrations in books tended more often to be plain black-and-white; they were more affordable to produce and therefore more affordable to purchase.  Hand-colored illustrations were produced in selected instances, but they were labor-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive and consequently were available only to the wealthy.  Among those who could afford them, natural-history books containing hand-colored engravings became increasingly popular during the late 1700s.  It became fashionable to display folios of hand-colored plates in one’s home, similar to the modern enjoyment of “coffee-table” books; and individual, loose illustrations were sold for display in portfolios or on walls, again much as we still do.
François Martinet became well respected for his engravings because he learned how to bring realism to his bird illustrations, a skill not easily acquired.  Earlier engravings often depicted birds disproportionately, or outright incorrectly, in stiff, unnatural poses, making it difficult for anyone but an experienced ornithologist to identify the species concerned.  Only the most obvious birds such as the hoopoe, with its orange plumage and distinctive headpiece (see plate 24 in Ornithologie), were easily recognizable.  The difficulty which all natural-history illustrators, including Martinet, encountered was that they had to use their imagination to make realistic images using as models birds that were either constantly in motion or, more frequently the case, dead.

It is important to note that prior to and during the period of Martinet’s career attempts at preserving specimens were largely unsuccessful. Variations in preservation methods included submersing the dead birds in liquid, quickly heating them in a very hot oven, dipping them in varnish, and other experimental techniques.  These methods were not always effective over the long term and often changed the appearance of the birds.  For example, the solutions in which the birds were submersed frequently caused changes in the coloration of their feathers.  As a result, bird illustrations were commonly based on stiffly stuffed, decomposing, pest-infested specimens.  (Even this represented an advance over the practices of earlier centuries, when illustrations were sometimes simply copied from previous books and drawings; a number of books in the 18th century note that their plates are “drawn from life,” although this might mean only that they were based on actual specimens, and not necessarily that the bird was alive.)  Sometimes artists did have the assistance of other people's descriptions and drawings of living birds, although few bird collectors of the time provided adequate information on the color and character of birds in their natural habitat before they were captured and killed; and some specimens were brought back alive for the menageries and zoological gardens that were becoming increasingly popular.  But overall, a combination of problems made it difficult to portray accurately the color, posture, and behavior of birds.  Those species that were indigenous to Europe or that chanced to survive the trip to France were the only ones likely to be illustrated as they actually appeared.

Under these circumstances it is not surprising that illustrations in books up to this period commonly showed birds motionless on a rock or stump, perching on a bare branch, or standing by a lake or stream, serving the simple purpose of presenting the species for description and classification.  In his work for others and even by and large in his own publications, Martinet must have had no choice but to conform to these conventions, but in the latter he incorporated a fuller artistic element in his illustrations when the opportunity arose, showing birds on the roofs of French chateaux or city buildings, swimming in ponds, perched on a crag overlooking ships sailing on the sea, in farmyards or at bird-feeders, and even - for those birds that had become popular as pets - in cages in domestic interiors.

Martinet's bird illustrations in natural-history books

The popularity and recognition François Nicolas Martinet increasingly received for his talent as an ornithological artist can be seen through his contribution of illustrations for some of the most influential ornithology books of the 1700s.  Martinet has ties to some of the major contributors to the development of ornithology as a scientific discipline, illustrating books by John Ray, Mathurin Brisson, and Georges Louis Leclerc, le comte de Buffon.

•           John Ray. L'Histoire Naturelle, Eclaircie dans Une de ses Parties Principales, l'Ornithologie qui Traite des Oiseaux de Terre, de Mer et de Rivière, tant de Nos Climates que des Pays Étrangers. Paris: Debure père, 1767.  Revised and enlarged by François Salèrne.

In 1767 François Salèrne published a revised and enlarged version of John Ray's Synopsis Methodica Avium & Piscium (London: Gulielmi Innys, 1713)1 under the title L'Histoire Naturelle, Eclaircie dans Une de ses Parties Principales, l'Ornithologie qui Traite des Oiseaux de Terre, de Mer et de Rivière, tant de Nos Climates que des Pays Étrangers.  Martinet was hired to draw and etch thirty-one plates incorporating 100 figures.  Ray (1627-1705), with his contemporary Francis Willughby (1635-1672), had revolutionized ornithological taxonomy and systematics by organizing bird species into a classification scheme based on the physical characteristics of their body, bill, and feet. For his original publications Ray had tried to provide illustrations depicting the birds as they actually appeared without embellishment or distortion, but he was not always successful due to the artists’ and engravers’ lack of familiarity with birds.  Martinet’s illustrations represent an improvement in this regard.

•           Mathurin Jacques Brisson. Ornithologie; ou, Méthode Contenant la Division des Oiseaux en Ordres, Sections, Genres, Especes & Leurs Variétés. À Laquelle on a Joint Une Description Exacte de Chaque Espece, avec les Citations des Auteurs qui en Ont Traité, les Noms Quils Leur Ont Donnés, Ceux que Leur Ont Donnés les Différentes Nations, & les Noms Vulgaires. Paris: Chez C.J.B. Bauche, 1760. 6 volumes.2

Mathurin Jacques Brisson (1723-1806) was hired by the French naturalist René Antoine Ferchauld de Réaumur (1683-1757) in 1749 to care for the latter’s private collection of natural-history specimens from all over the world.  The continuous addition of new birds to the collection (from, among others, Pierre Poivre and Michel Adanson) and Réaumur's method of preserving birds by quickly exposing them to a very hot oven, a technique he taught to people who traveled for him collecting new birds, helped to ensure that his collection was one of the biggest and best preserved in France during this period.

Inspired by Carl Von Linné (perhaps better known by his latinized name of Linnaeus) and his new system of classification presented in the Systema Naturae (first published in 1735, with the classic 10th edition in 1758-59)3, Brisson set about to organize the collection. Failing to appreciate the distinctions which Linnaeus established between a two-word species name, its brief diagnosis, and its lengthier description, Brisson soon came to believe that Linnaeus's approach was inadequate and did not accommodate new species in the Réaumur collection. He therefore developed his own classification system of twenty-six orders, 115 genera, and over 1300 species.  Sixty-five of his genera were completely new (all but one still scientifically recognized today), as were 320 of his species.  Brisson's focus was on the external physical appearance of the birds, and he included lengthy, detailed descriptions in the work which he published under the title Ornithologie in six volumes in 1760,4 with 261 plates drawn and engraved by Martinet.  Many of the plates depict a single bird, but enough show several forms of a species or combination of species that about 500 figures are presented in total.  The birds are illustrated on a branch or other minimal but appropriate site, within a simple lined frame; the figures are heavily engraved with etching, clearly not intended to be colored after printing.

Unfortunately, the book was not well received.  His stance regarding nomenclature, in effect reverting to the earlier, confusing practice of creating a lengthy descriptive name for each species, doomed his superior classification and descriptions, and his work was quickly rejected by most naturalists in favor of Linnaeus’s system of binomial nomenclature.

Réaumur died in 1757 and willed his natural-history collection to the Cabinet du Roi of the Jardin du Roi (the royal collection, later to become the French national natural-history museum and gardens), with which it was merged the following year.  Brisson lost his position, as le comte de Buffon, the head of the Cabinet du Roi and a rival of Réaumur, now became the keeper of the combined collection.  Unhappy with the unfavorable reception of Ornithologie and out of a job, Brisson accepted a position as professor of physics at the College de Navarre in 1762 and never returned to ornithology.  Martinet, however, soon found work once again illustrating birds. 

•           Georges Louis Leclerc, le comte de Buffon, P.G. de Montbeillard, and G.L.C.A. Bexon. Histoire Naturalle, Générale et Particulière, avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi [vols. 16-24]: Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux.  9 volumes. Paris: l'Imprimerie royale, 1770-1783.  Subsequently re-issued in a larger format, in 10 volumes: Paris: l’Imprimerie royale, [1770] 1771-1786, with the Planches enluminées, [Paris: s.n., 1765-1783?].5

The addition of Réaumur’s specimens to the royal collections created one of the largest collections of birds in the world, supplying Georges Louis Leclerc, le comte de Buffon (1707-1788), who served as Intendant du Jardin des Plantes du Roi (head of the royal botanical gardens) under Louis XV, with specimens of approximately 800 species.

From this position Buffon, one of the giants of the French Enlightenment, undertook a project not only to describe and classify comprehensively the royal collections but in fact to explicate the natural history of the world.  His Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, begun in 1749, is a massive, classic work in the history of the natural sciences.  In the zoological volumes, unfortunately, the work’s relevance to modern science is severely restricted by the fact that Buffon refused to adopt his contemporary Linnaeus’s invaluable and now universally used system of binomial nomenclature, which served to clarify species designations and facilitate scientific communication.  He opted instead to use a single-word common name - in French, of course, when one existed, and often one of his own invention when one did not (for exotic species).  Thus Buffon's major contribution to ornithology was not in naming new species from the fabulous collections in his care, but rather in his descriptive text, in which he focused the attention of scientists on the importance of studying birds in their natural environment.

Buffon produced the work with the assistance of many colleagues both at the royal collections and from French scientific circles.  The greater part of  the volumes constituting the Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux, for example, was written by Philibert Guéneau de Montbeillard and the Abbé Gabriel Leopold Charles Aimé Bexon.  Buffon also had the considerable assistance of Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716-1800), a highly respected scientist and anatomist who served under Buffon as Garde et Démonstrateur du Cabinet d’Histoire Naturelle du Roi (chief of the natural-history-specimen collections within the Jardin des Plantes), who provided much material for the early zoological sections of the Histoire Naturelle.  Buffon died in 1788 having produced thirty-six volumes of the Histoire Naturelle, but the work was carried on by his colleagues and successors, growing to forty-four volumes by the time it  was completed in 1805.

In the 1760s, prior to the bird section’s appearance and while sales of the overall set were slumping, L.J.M. Daubenton had conceived the idea of issuing a set of colored plates of specimens from the royal collections in his care.  Daubenton commissioned Martinet to produce the plates and began issuing them in 1765 in cahiers (parts or folders) of 24 plates at a time.  Although there does not seem to have been a title page ever issued for them, they were referred to in contemporary publications, by Linnaeus for example, under the general title Miscellanea.  The first four cahiers (96 plates) consisted primarily of birds but included also 35 plates of other kinds of animals: 28 of insects, 3 of reptiles and amphibians, and 4 of corals.  From cahier 5 forward, only birds were illustrated.

In 1767, after cahier 6 was published, Daubenton and Buffon seem to have had a falling-out over the purpose and title of the plates, with Buffon prevailing in his desire that they be issued as part of the Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux. As a result L.J.M. Daubenton (called “the elder”) withdrew from the project; Buffon and Daubenton’s cousin Edmé Louis Daubenton (1732-1786, called “le cadet,” or  “the younger”) continued issuing the plates under the title Planches Enluminées for the planned section on birds.  Thus, the Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux was published both in quarto as volumes16-24 of the larger work (1770-1783) with 262 black-and-white plates drawn by DeSève, and in a large-paper or folio edition, matching Martinet’s colored plates in size ( [1770] 1771-1786). 

The complete Planches Enluminées, whether alone or bound with the text of the Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux consists of 42 cahiers (6 issued by Daubenton the elder, and 36 by the younger) of 24 plates each, for a total of 1,008 engraved, hand-colored plates.  Of this total, 973 are of birds.  Although as many as 80 artists were involved in the project, Martinet served as the engraver for all 1,008 of them.  The plates are simple and spare in design, for the most part depicting a single bird (only rarely are there more than two) perched on a branch within a gold- or yellow-colored frame; the engraved and etched lines forming the figures are light and open, as it were, so as to allow the glowing, sometimes vibrant, coloring of the bird’s feathers, applied by hand after printing, to shine through. It is an altogether extraordinary suite of illustrations.

Despite Buffon’s claim that the plates and the text were created to go together, the two components do not mesh well since the text treats the birds in a classified sequence while the plates’ numerical order follows no apparent organizational plan.  Several indices for the birds and their binomial scientific names were subsequently published by others, including Pieter Boddaert’s Table des Planches Enluminéez [sic] d’Histoire Naturelle de M. d’Aubenton [sic] (Utrecht, 1783; reprinted 1874), and Thomas Pennant’s Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux par le Comte de Buffon and les Planches Enluminées, Systematically Disposed (London, 1786).

Other books that Martinet illustrated include:

Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert. Encyclopédie. Paris: Braisson, 1768.  Martinet contributed twenty-one ornithological illustrations.6
Edmé Billardon-Sauvigny. Histoire Naturelle des Dorades de la Chine. Paris: [s.n.], 1780.
Benjamin Franklin. Oeuvres de M. Franklin. Paris: Chez Quillau l'ainé, 1773.
François Nicolas Martinet. L'Histoire et Description de Paris. Paris: [s.n.], 1779-1781.
François Nicolas Martinet. Adresse Importante Aux Représentans de la Nation Française [Paris: l'Imprimerie de Dumont], 1790.
Denis Pierre Jean Papillon de La Ferté. Description du Mausolée pour Très-Haute, Très Puissante & Très-Excellente Princesse Marie Josephe Albertine de Saxe, Dauphine de France, fait à Paris dans l'Église de Nôtre-Dame, le 3 Septembre 1767. [Paris]: l'Imprimerie de P.R.C. Ballard, 1767.
Ibid. Description du Mausolée de Très-Haute ... Princesse, Marie-Charlotte-Sophie-Félicité Leszczynska, Reine de France. [Paris]: l'Imprimerie de P.R.C. Ballard, 1768.
Martinet’s own bird engravings

Martinet's talent and popularity grew as he worked in turn for François Salèrne, Mathurin Jacques Brisson, and le comte de Buffon to draw and engrave the bird illustrations for their books.  He learned from each author the importance of capturing the birds’ correct proportions and showing their natural habits and postures, and at some point in the early 1770s he set out independently to produce his own plates in a collection entitled Histoire des Oiseaux, Peints dans Tous Leurs Aspects Apparents et Sensibles.

Actually, this title is used to refer to two separate groups of plates by Martinet:

1) a two-volume set  in folio, measuring 38.7 x 28.6 cm.(15¼ by 11¼ in.), published between 1773 and 1796.  This edition includes over 200 plates, which are numbered in one or the other of the upper corners, but there seems never to have been a text. And,

2) a nine-volume set totaling 483 plates (including frontispieces and engraved titles, presumably 18 in total) in octavo, measuring 21.6 x 14 cm. (8½ by 5½  in.), between 1787 and1796.  The edition includes text by Martinet describing the birds depicted.

The folio edition is of such rarity that it is not included in the standard bibliographies (Ronsil, Zimmer/Field, Wood/McGill, Ripley/Yale, Nissen, BM(NH), etc.) and seems to be essentially an unknown and unrecorded work.  Even the octavo edition is poorly known, with both the dates and the numbers of plates uncertain; Ronsil provides the qualifiedly “best” information, dating the octavo 1789-[1790], citing 483 plates, and adding that the work was never finished. Sources differ on these points, however, and no review of Martinet’s works has yet been produced to clarify the matter. Both sets were issued in parts over many years, a common practice in this period, with the result that known surviving copies are incomplete, lacking the full complement of plates and, for the octavo set, the title pages and text.

The identification of sets and the determination of the numbers and dates of the plates properly belonging to each are further complicated by the fact that about 25 years after Martinet's death his son Alexandre re-issued some of the folio plates in a set titled Petit Atlas d'Ornithologie, ou Collection Choisies d'Oiseaux [Paris: A. Martinet, circa 1815]. It is described as a folio, measuring approximately 46 x 30 cm., comprising 150 plates, along with a title page, alphabetical and general indices, and a few pages of preliminary matter.

A search of the library databases OCLC, RLIN, and the National Union Catalogue: Pre-1956 Imprints, as well as relevant published library catalogs and bibliographies, turns up only two libraries in the United States that hold any version of Martinet’s work. They are:

the folio edition - Trinity College, Hartford CT, which holds the 2-volume folio edition (39 cm.) entitled Histoire des Oiseaux..., with 232 plates including18 duplicates, dated [1773-1792].  The copy further includes 2 original watercolor drawings by Martinet and was formerly owned by Bradley Martin, whose collection was sold at Sotheby’s in 1989 (lot 155).  Trinity’s record notes that 6 plates are dated: 15 (before 1785), 71 (1773), 53 and 54 [= 153, 154?] (1791), 170 and 188 (1792).
the octavo edition - Yale University, which holds a copy of the octavo 9-volume edition (21 cm.) of the Histoire des Oiseaux..., consisting of 397 plates (in 8 volumes only, with “28 plates wanting”). Its record gives a publication date of 1790; the notes state that the work was issued in 99 parts and that the engraved title pages of volumes 1-4 are dated 1787-1793.
Further afield, the catalog of the British Museum (Natural History) - now the Natural History Museum, London - lists a scrapbook of plates of German birds from mixed sources, entitled  Beschreibungen über die noch fehlende Illuminerte Vögel Deutschlands , which includes 110 plates by François and Alexandre Martinet, in folio, dated between 1773-1792; these must be from the folio edition of Martinet’s plates. In addition, a copy of the octavo edition formerly belonging to Lord Rothschild, now part of the Natural History Museum (London) at Tring, is said to have 465 ornithological plates, which would be the full complement, lacking only 17 of the 18 engraved frontispieces and title pages.

A few additional copies of both sets have circulated in the antiquarian book trade over the last decade or so.  To judge from the descriptions, every copy is different and none is complete.

In the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ volume of Martinet’s engravings, carrying the spine-title Ornithologie and mounted here in SIL’s digital edition, the plates which are dated match those listed in the Trinity copy’s record, with the addition of 163 (1791) and 174 (1792).  This, combined with the page dimensions, the format, and lack of other known work by Martinet, leads to the conclusion that the volume is an incomplete copy of the rare folio edition of the Histoire des Oiseaux, Peints dans Tous Leurs Aspects Apparents et Sensibles. This identification has been confirmed by Mr. Jeffrey Kaimowitz, Curator of Special Collections at Trinity College, who compared the Trinity/Martin copy with the images of the present digital edition.

The engravings in this work are delicately drawn and radiantly colored; SIL’s copy is printed on a fine blue paper that softens contrasts and creates an effect of sky behind the birds.  Most of the plates follow the conventional style that Martinet used in his illustrations for scientific works, positioning perching birds on tree branches and others on rocks or grassy hummocks, but several of the most attractive plates here include a fuller treatment of the background, providing a familiar environment for the species, and some contain a purely decorative element such as a silk banner or a hanging scroll carrying the French name of the bird.  Overall, the images in this work represent a high point in the history of ornithological illustration, precisely and accurately depicting a wide variety of birds both common and exotic, while also succeeding as decorative art meant for the appreciation of a public (albeit wealthy) audience.


1. Two copies of John Ray's original, though posthumous, Synopsis Methodica Avium & Piscium (London: Gulielmi [sic] Innys..., 1713), edited by William Derham, are held by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries under call number QL673.R26.  Although they are usually bound together and known as a combined work, the birds and fishes sections were actually published as separate works, and SIL holds a third copy of the original Synopsis Methodica Avium alone; call number QL673.R263, from the Marcia Brady Tucker Collection.

2. Brisson’s Ornithologie; ou, Méthode Contenant la Division des Oiseaux... is held by Smithsonian Institution Libraries under call number QL673.B85, from the Marcia Brady Tucker Collection.  SIL also holds the 1763 abridged edition in two volumes without illustrations under call number QL673.B85 1763, from the Marcia Brady Tucker Collection.

3. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries owns numerous copies of Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae in its many editions, including the 2nd (1740), 6th (1748), 9th (1756), 10th (1758-1759), 12th (1766-1768), 13th (1788-1793), and others.  All can be found under call number QH43.S99....

4. Brisson's Ornithologie is a different publication than Martinet’s work reproduced in this digital edition.

5. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries holds many editions of Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière, both as a complete set and divided into its component parts. As a set, the work is held under the call number QH45.B93.  For the parts, call numbers vary depending on the particular subject; a copy of the Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux is under call number: QL674.B92 1770.  The Planches Enluminées d’Histoire Naturelle are held in a ten-volume set under call number qQL674.M385.

6. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries holds the Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et métiers, par une sociéte de gens de lettres (Paris [etc.]: Braisson [etc.], 1751-1780), with 17 volumes text, 4 vols. supplement, 2 vols. index, and 11 vols. plates (Recueil de planches, sur les sciences, les arts libéraux, et les arts méchaniques, avec leur explication. 1762-1772), under call number: fAE25.E56 1751.


François Nicolas Martinet. Ornithologie [=Histoire des Oiseaux, Peints dans Tous Leurs Aspects Apparents et Sensibles]. [Paris: by the Artist?], 1773-1792.
f QL 674 M.38 1773 RB SI
Pagination: 174 plates (engravings with etching, hand-colored). 41 cm.
Collation: 174 leaves of plates.

[No signatures] 
[No pagination]    Front cover; verso: Front paste-down
Two front free end-papers; verso blank
174 plates; all versos blank
Two back free end-papers; verso blank
Back paste-down; verso: Back cover
The binding is red half-morocco with red cloth over boards, with double fillets in gilt along the inner edges of the corners and the spine cover.  Gilt-stamped on the front turn-in (at lower right) is the binder’s name, “Christian. Binder. Eastbourne.”  The spine is divided by five raised bands into six panels; the second from the top contains a binder’s title in gilt, “Martinet / Ornithologie.”  The other five panels are decorated in gilt, with double fillets, corner pieces, and a representation of a crane or stork in the center of each panel.  The front and back paste-downs and the conjugate free end-papers are a marbleized paper patterned in pink, black and white; the other end-papers are off-white. All edges of the text block are gilt.

The volume lacks a title page or text.  On the recto of the second front free end-paper “Martinet / Ornithologie” has been written (by a previous owner or dealer?) in pencil at the top of the page, and in the upper right corner is the number “132" also in pencil. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ call number for this book has been written in pencil in the upper right corner of the verso.  A penciled note has been erased in the upper right corner of the first plate.

The volume consists of 174 plates of bird illustrations, numbered 1-174 in the upper right or left corner of each plate.  The plates are engravings with etching, colored by hand with watercolor.  Each plate has a caption consisting of the bird’s common name in French, and some have additional text within the illustration.  An English translation or common-name identification has been written in pencil below the plate mark on almost all leaves.

François Nicolas Martinet or his son Alexandre signed almost all of the plates; only plates 6, 36, 86, 90, 113, and 161 lack a signature.  Signature variations include “Martinet,” “par Martinet,” “Martinet fils,” “Martinet son fils,” “par Martinet fils,” “Martinet fils fecit,” and “Martinet Fils Sculp.”  Several of the plates include dates, whether incorporated into engraved text, as part of the signature, or worked into the image:

15    Le Rossignol    before 1785
71    La Poule de Virginie    1773
153    La Gélinotte, de France, mâle    1791
154    La Gélinotte, femelle    1791
163    Petit Aigle d'Amerique [sic]    1791
170    La Barge    1792
174    La Gélinotte, mâle, des Pyrenées    1792
The plates are on a laid cotton paper. Most sheets are of a pale blue color, but the color varies from sheet to sheet, with some so pale as to appear white.  Generally speaking, paper-makers strove for (and buyers sought) paper of the purest white, as an indication of quality ingredients and production. When forced to use rags of mixed colors, paper-makers sometimes “blued” the pulp or the sheets to eliminate any dingy cast and heighten the intensity of the white, a practice followed with laundry as well.  But to serve a variety of specific purposes blue paper as such has been made and used since before the development of printing in the 15th century, both in the East where paper-making was first developed, in the Middle East, and in Europe.  It could be made from blue rags, or from white or mixed-color rags dyed with woad (native to Europe) or with indigo (imported from Asia and later from the Americas, to which it had been transplanted as an agricultural crop), both of which contain the natural dye called “indigo.”  (The colorants smalt and Prussian blue were introduced during the course of the 18th century but are less common in papers of the period.)  Whether dyed into the original fabric of the rags or added to the pulp of shredded rags as they were being turned into paper, indigo is very stable and long-lasting and is almost the only fabric color available before the 18th century that did not turn gray or dun during the paper-making process. It does not necessarily produce a dark color (what we think of as the color indigo); the hue would vary depending on a number of factors and could be quite pale.  Some varieties of blue paper were coarse and dark, to be used, for example, as wrapping paper for sugar or holders for needles, and several such traditional uses persist in Europe, especially France, to this day.  Other blue papers were made thick and absorbent, for specialized uses such as blotter paper. Still others, of a higher quality, have been used by artists since at least the 1500s for a variety of media including pastel and chalk drawings.

Although it is not common, blue paper of a very high quality has been used in printing since the 1600s, for both texts and illustrations.  In 18th-century France a number of plate books or highly illustrated works were produced using blue paper. Such a practice may have served to link the illustrations with more purely “artistic” works, and in any event the color provided an appealing aesthetic contrast or background to hand-colored illustrations, especially those such as Martinet’s that depicted natural-history subjects in the open air.  To judge from the copies described in catalogs and auction records that mention the paper (or that have been seen in person), the plates of both the folio and the octavo editions of Martinet’s Histoire des Oiseaux exist in both blue-paper and white-paper versions.

Either a watermark or a countermark is visible in or near the center of every leaf unless the coloring of the bird figure obscures it.  The primary mark, which appears throughout the volume, is that of a stem of grapes.  The countermark, although frequently difficult to discern fully and showing small variations through the volume, consists of two horizontal lozenges: “B_MALMENAIDE  FYN” and “AUVERGNE 1742.” (The “i” and the “y” have been used interchangeably in both the maker’s name and in the word “fin.” The quatrefoil is merely outlined, not solid as shown here.) The marks closely approximate Heawood 3376, with a variation in the first initial (B in place of C).

Building on previous attempts to regulate the paper-making trade, in France in 1739-41 comprehensive regulations were established which, among a great many other things, standardized certain watermarks as symbols of sheet size and weight. Grapes (“raisin” in French) were to be used for sheets ranging from 46 x 61 cm. (“grand raisin,” about 18 x 24"), through 42 x 54 cm. (“le carré au raisin,” roughly 16½ x 22"), to 32.5 x 43 cm. (“petit raisin,” about 12½ x 17").  The present volume is 41 cm. tall, with the chain-lines running vertically and the watermark appearing in the center of the leaves; allowing for the trimming of the sheets, it therefore seems to have been produced as a folio from “grand raisin” paper. 

The regulations of 1739-41 further required that countermarks include the maker’s name, the quality of the paper (“fin,” “moyen,” or “bulle”), the maker’s region, and the year of production.  The phrasing of the regulation (which went into effect on January 1, 1742) had a curious result: once included in the mills’ paper molds, which might be used for 30 years or so, “1742" appeared in countermarks for decades, regardless of the actual year of production.  The presence of this year, therefore,  indicates only that Martinet’s sheets were made at some point after that date, probably  no more than a year or two before he put them to use.  Beyond that, however, the countermark in the sheets indicates that they were made by Malmenaide, a paper-maker in Thiers in the Auvergne, one of the major paper-producing regions of France and famous for high-quality papers used both in writing and in printing, and were of the “fin” or highest grade.


Marcia Brady Tucker (1884-1976), donor of the Tucker Collection in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, was a prominent amateur ornithologist who supported the pursuit of the science throughout her life and who is remembered with great gratitude and affection by those in the field.

She was born in Albany, New York, the daughter Anthony Nicholas Brady, a leading figure in New York utilities and an associate of Thomas Edison. With her husband, Carll Tucker, also an Albany native, she lived all of her adult life in New York City and Mt. Kisco, New York.

Mrs. Tucker was a member of the American Ornithologists’ Union from 1924 until her death, and her active involvement with and support for the organization included sponsoring student members’ attendance at its annual meetings and underwriting its important Ornithological Monographs series.  In addition, she served for many years on the board of the International Council for Bird Preservation with Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, noted French ornithologist Jean Delacour, and Sir Peter Scott.  She was also a board member of the National Audubon Society and a benefactor of the Audubon Museum in Hendersonville KY, to which she gave her copy of Audubon’s “double-elephant” folio Birds of America.

Mrs. Tucker amassed a library of hundreds of rare ornithological books and other works in natural history and the history of exploration.  The core of the collection was originally assembled by Jonathan Dwight, Jr. (1858-1929), a medical doctor and Research Associate (1922-1928) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. After his death the collection was bought by Carll Tucker as a gift for Mrs. Tucker, who added to it over the years.  In an extraordinary gesture of largesse and support for scientific research, Mrs. Tucker presented her library to the Smithsonian in 1970.  The Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ Marcia Brady Tucker Collection has been actively used and appreciated by curators at the National Museum of Natural History, research fellows, and visiting scholars ever since.

Tucker Bookplate
As Jean Delacour and Dean Amadon said in the journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union: “...those who were privileged to know Marcia Tucker will not forget her; those who were not will nonetheless continue to benefit from her lifelong devotion to our science.”

  The Marcia Brady Tucker Collection bookplate features the Arctic tern, the farthest-ranging migratory bird, after the emblem originally designed by the celebrated ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson, a friend of Mrs. Tucker’s, for the Tuckers’ schooner “Migrant.”



American Book Prices Current. New York: Bancroft-Parkman, Inc. Vols. 92 (for 1985)-105 (for 1999).

Anker, Jean.  Bird Books and Bird Art. New York: Arno Press, 1974. (Reprint of Copenhagen, 1938 edition.)

Auction catalogs from Bonham’s, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s, 1989-1998, including the Bradley Martin library; sale catalog from Maggs, London, December 1996.

Auction catalogs, historical, from Parke-Bernet Galleries (Evan Morton Evans ornithological library, 1955) and the American Art Association (John Lewis Childs collection, 1923).

Benezit, E. Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs de Tous les Temps et de Tous les Pays. Nouvelle Edition. Paris: Gründ, 1999.

British Museum (Natural History). Catalogue of the Books, Manuscripts, Maps and Drawings in the British Museum (Natural History).  London: the Trustees, 1903-1915; suppl.1922-1940.

Bureau, Louis. “Sur un Atlas des Planches Coloriées de l’Ornithologie de Brisson Attribué au Peintre Martinet, Provenant de la Vente Alph. Milne-Edwards” in Proceedings of the Fourth International Ornithological Congress, London, June 1905, published as vol.XIV of Ornis. London, 1907: p.176-180.  (See also Newton below.)

Cowan, C.F., Lieut.Col. “ ‘Aub.Misc.’, or Daubenton’s Miscellanea,” in Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History. London: the Society c/o British Museum (Natural History). Vol.4, pt.6, July 1967: 312-316.

Cowan, C.F., Lieut.-Col. "The Daubentons and Buffon's Birds" in Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History. London: the Society c/o British Museum (Natural History). Vol.5, pt.1, September 1968: 37-40.

Dictionnaire de Biographie Française. Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ané, 1933- . Vol.1- .  No information on Martinet (only A-L to date). 

Farber, Paul Lawrence. Discovering Birds: The Emergence of Ornithology as a Scientific Discipline, 1760-1850. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

[Gallatin, Frederic, Jr.] Catalogue of a Collection of Books in Ornithology in the Library of Frederic Gallatin, Jr.  New York: Privately printed, 1908.

Kaimowitz, Jeffrey.  Personal communication, Oct. 25, 2000.

Kastner, Joseph. The Bird Illustrated, 1550-1900: From the Collections of the New York Public Library. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1988.

Lambourne, Maureen. The Art of Bird Illustration. Secaucus, NJ: Wellfleet Press, 1990.

Lysaight, A. M. The Book of Birds: Five Centuries of Bird Illustration. London: Phaidon Press, 1975.

Newton, Alfred. “Remarks on the Preceding [i.e., Bureau’s article]” in Proceedings of the Fourth International Ornithological Congress, London, June 1905, published as vol.XIV of Ornis. London, 1907: p.180-182.  (See also Bureau above.)

Nissen, Claus. Die Illustrierten Vogelbücher: Ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie.  Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann Verlag, 1953.  Reprinted Stuttgart, 1976.

— . Die Zoologische Buchillustration: Ihre Bibliographie und Geschichte.  Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1969.

Nouvelle Biographie Générale depuis les Temps les Plus Reculés jusqu’à Nos Jours.  Paris: Firmin Didot Frères, 1862-1865.  No information on Martinet.

Pasquier, Roger F. and John Farrand, Jr.  Masterpieces of Bird Art: 700 Years of Ornithological Illustration. New York: Abbeville Press, [c1991].

Ripley, S. Dillon and Lynette L. Scribner, compilers. Ornithological Books in the Yale University Library, including the Library of William Robertson Coe. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961.

Roger, Jacques. Buffon: A Life in Natural History. Translated by Sarah Lucille Bonnefoi, Edited by L. Pearce Williams.  Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Ronsil, René. Bibliographie Ornithologique Française. Paris: Paul Lechevalier, 1948-1949.

Sitwell, Sacheverell, Handasyde Buchanan and James Fisher. Fine Bird Books, 1700-1900. New York: Collins & Van Nostrand, 1953.

Stresemann, Erwin. Ornithology from Aristotle to the Present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Thayer, Evelyn and Virginia Keyes, compilers. Catalogue of a Collection of Books on Ornithology in the Library of John E. Thayer.  Boston: Privately printed, 1913.

Thieme, Ulrich, ed. Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler Von der Antike Bis Zur Gegenwart. Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 1930.

Trinity College, Hartford CT.  Ornithology Books in the Library of Trintiy College, Hartford, including the Library of Ostrom Enders. Hartford: Trinity college, 1983.

Wood, Casey A.  An Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Zoology Based Chiefly on the Titles in the...Libraries of McGill University, Montreal. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1931.

Zimmer, John Todd. Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1926. (Issued as Publication 239 in vol.XVI of the Museum’s Zoological Series.)

The National Union Catalog: Pre-1956 Imprints, the bibliographic databases OCLC & RLIN, COPAC (the online union catalog for Britain’s Consortium of University Research Libraries), and the online union catalog of European national and state libraries maintained by the Universitätsbibliothek Karlsruhe were also consulted.

Bibliographic description:

Alibaux, H. "The French Paper Industry in the XVIth, XVIIth and XVIIth Centuries" in Paper Trade Journal. New York: Lockwood Trade Journal Co. Inc. [Vol.55?], August 5, 1926: 59-60.

Bowers, Fredson. Principles of Bibliographical Description. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1994.

Briquet, C.M. Les Filigranes: Dictionnaire Historique des Marques du Papier dès Leur Apparition vers 1282 Jusqu’en 1600.  Geneva, 1907; Leipzig, 1923; reprinted New York: Hacker Art Books, 1966, reissued 1985.

Brückle, Irene. “The Historical Manufacture of Blue-Coloured Paper,” in The Paper Conservator. London: Institute of Paper Conservation. Vol.17, 1993: 20-31.

Brückle, Irene. “Historical Manufacture and Use of Blue Paper,” in The Book & Paper Group Annual.  Washington, D.C.: American Institute for Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works.  Vol.12, 1993: 5-7.

Churchill, W.A. Watermarks in Paper in Holland, England, France, etc. in the XVII and XVIII Centuries and their Interconnection. Nieuwkoop: De Graff, 1990. [Reprinted from the 1935 Amsterdam edition].

Coupry, Claude, Alain Lautié, and Roy Perkinson. “Les Papiers Bleus: Identification des Colorants,” in Techne. Paris: Laboratoire de recherche des musées de France. No.4, 1996: 99-107.

Gaskell, Philip.  A New Introduction to Bibliography. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.

Gaudriault, Raymond. Filigranes et Autres Caractéristiques des Papiers Fabriqués en France aux XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles.  Paris: CNRS Éditions, 1995.

Heawood, Edward. Watermarks Mainly of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Hilversum: The Paper Publication Society, 1981. [Reprinted from the corrected but not reused reprint of 1969; first published 1950.]

Perkinson, Roy.  “Drawn to Blue: The Use of Blue Papers for Drawing.” Unpublished lecture, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1995, with supplementary hand-out material.

The donor:

Delacour, Jean and Dean Amadon. “Obituary [of Marcia Brady Tucker]” in The Auk. Washington, D.C.: American Ornithologists’ Union. Vol.94, no.4, 1977: 805-806.

Stone, Witmer. [Obituary of Dr. Jonathan Dwight] in The Auk. Lancaster, Pa: American Ornithologists’ Union. Vol.46, no.2, 1929: 279. (Reprinted in Biographies of Members of the American Ornithologists Union by T.S. Palmer and others. Washington, D.C.: American Ornithologists’ Union, 1954: 178-179.)

Our thanks go also to Cameron and Elizabeth Sanders and the Tucker Family for their assistance.

Kathryn E. Zaharek
Graduate Practicum Student
The Catholic University of America
School of Library and Information Science
Leslie K. Overstreet
Curator of Natural-History Rare Books
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Rev. November 2001