Descourtilz - Tropical Fruit Illustrationsby Melanie Paquette Widmann, Michel Etienne Descourtilz, Jean Theodore Descourtilz
Michel Étienne Descourtilz
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The antique botanical prints in this issue are from Flore pittoresque et médicale des Antilles [short title] published by the author in 8 volumes. The illustrations were painted by Michel Étienne Descourtilz’ son Jean Théodore (1796-1855) from the drawings and directions of his father.
Michel Étienne Descourtilz (1775-1835)
Born: 1775 at Pithiviers, France
Died: 1835 at Paris, France
Wife: Daughter of Rossignol-Desdunes
In 1798, Descourtilz left his family in France to travel with his mother-in-law to Haiti, according to Girard, in order to “recover the valuable plantations held by his Creole relatives.” This historic time in Haiti was recorded by Descourtilz through his natural history collections and memoires. What you see in this edition is what saved his life
According to Descourtilz in his Voyages d’un naturaliste, the commander Léandres was the assassin of the Rossignol-Desdunes family and it is unclear if any of the Haitian relatives survived. He barely escaped the massacre but recognized his luck and a few major figures. The first is Madame Dessalines who, through her tenderness, convinced her husband to spare Descourtilz. The second is Thouvenot.
Make no mistake that Descourtilz was a prisoner of Dessalines. He did manage to escape during a battle. It is General Pierre Thouvenot who enabled him to find a safe passage back to France to preserve his artistic works. It was just as the canon announced the departure of the ship, La Torche, that the port was set ablaze, engulfing much of his works of art and natural history. He remained in France as a physician, writer and active member of many scientific communities, serving as the President of the Linnean Society of Paris. An interesting passage that summarizes the Haitian period from the Flore introduction is translated and posted on the CTG Publishing website along with a map.
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