plate 41 from George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, supplément, tome III
French, active c. 1750–1800
After Jacques de Sève
French, active 1742–1788
Published in 1776 by L’Imprimerie royale, Paris
The Histoire naturelle was the life work of George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707–1788). Although first a serious student of mathematics—one of the earliest problems in geometric probability, Buffon’s needle, was posed by him—Buffon’s interest turned to flora and fauna in 1739, when, at the age of 32, he was appointed keeper of the royal botanical garden, the Jardin du Roi (today the Jardin des Plantes). One of his duties as keeper was to catalogue the royal collections of natural history, a task that quickly evolved into the encyclopedic Histoire naturelle, the first attempt to present all the scientific—and thus, decidedly, non-theological—knowledge of not only natural history, but also geology, anthropology, and astronomy, in a single, integrated study. Fifty volumes were projected; however, Buffon managed to publish just thirty-six before dying in 1788. Another eight volumes, based on his notes but written by another author, appeared posthumously, between 1789 and 1804.Buffon commissioned a number of artists to provide drawings for his study. For the section on quadrupeds, including the supplemental volumes, from which the print on view here is taken, he engaged Jacques de Sève, a specialist in flora and fauna who drew many of the images for the project from life but who was not at all averse to copying should another’s efforts suffice. In any case, there likely was no need for de Sève to travel to the United States to fashion this portrait of the North American puma, called the Pennsylvania cougar by Buffon, which is correctly differentiated in the text from the other subspecies of Puma concolor, all located in Central and South America.
Object inscriptions: top left: Tom. III; top right: Pl. XLI. pag. 224; bottom left: De Seve, del.; bottom center: LE COUGAR DE PENSILVANIE.; bottom right: Mag. Th. Rousselet, sculp.; bottom right: collector's mark circle Y