Paris: Chez Blin, . Item #05073
Seventy-Eight Superb Color Printed Portraits of The Heroes of France
Each Followed by "The Picture of Their Most Glorious Deed"
[SERGENT-MARCEAU, Antoine-François]. Portraits Des Grands Hommes, Femmes Illustres, et Sujets Mémorables de France, gravés et imprimée en couleurs. Dédiée Au Roi. Paris: Chez Blin, [c. 1792].
First Edition of a seminal work in the history of color printing.
Large quarto (12 5/8 x 9 1/16 inches; 321 x 230 mm.). Engraved title-page in sepia, and 156 superb color-printed aquatints only (of 192), by Moret, Ridé and Mdme. De Cernel, after Sergent. Text engraved throughout. Small worm-track on lower inner margin of front board and free endpaper and just touching the sepia title. A few leaves with mainly marginal spotting or staining, otherwise a wonderful example with stimulating and vibrant coloring of the plates.
Contemporary half maroon morocco over pink paper boards. Smooth spine decoratively ruled and stamped in gilt with "GG" monograms and gilt lettering in compartments. Bookplate of Joel Spitz on front paste-down. Housed in a later fleece-lined, red buckram slipcase.
"This extraordinary work of colour printing, issued in Paris by Blin, included 192 aquatint plates and was published in 48 parts. It carried out a consistent scheme of oval portraiture with engraved description and arms below, followed by a notable episode from the life of that hero or heroine of France, and two columns of the half-page in engraved italic to describe the historical event. Thus it was a book of aquatint and engraving, with no type setting. Sergent, responsible for most of the work, had an active life - art, politics, exile, romantic suffering and marriage. He lived to be ninety-six, and in old age drew portraits of his wife to whom he had taught engraving. She helped him with a few plates in this work. It is, as colour-printing, an harmonious and excellent achievement. These were early days for colour in aquatint. England had not begun to attempt colour printing of this sort… [The work] showed absolute control and sophistication, using colour over colour in the manner of Debucourt, following Le Blon, and little or no hand-colouring. He began with a black plate, and assembled the colours upon it. The historical subjects tend to be militsry, but include such philosophical scenes as Fontenelle beside his telescope viewing the man in the moon, and an allegorical celebration - with the medallions of Franklin, Louis Seize and Washington - of American Independance."(Colin Franklin).
"AntoineFrancois Sergent (1751-1847), who had studied engraving with Augustin de Saint-Aubin, began to concentrate his attention on engraving about 1786, with the first plates for this book. He did not allow his ardent and prolonged participation in the Revolution to interrupt the progress of his Portraits des grands hommes, although the abject flattery of Louis XVI with which it began came to seem more and more of an anomaly. The work eventually extended to forty-eight parts of four plates each. (This copy includes the first thirthy-three parts.) In his dedication to the King, Pierre Blin, the publisher, promised portraits of "all the heroes of France, with the picture of their most glorious deed." The pattern which Sergent followed was established in the first two engravings: a portrait of Louis XVI, and an allegorical plate after Duplessis-Bertaux entitled "Indépendance des États-Unis" (Independance of the United States), in which this historical development is represented as largely the work of France's ineffectual monarch. His likeness surmounts those of Franklin and "Waginston" on a monument with the inscription "L'Amérique et les mers, ô Louis! vous reconnaissen pour leur liberateu" (America and the seas, O Louis, recognize you as their liberator), while a young woman in Indian dress places her foot on the head of a spotted and compressed beast, pssibly intended to represent the British lion. The portraits in the series, most of them Sergent's own work, are uniformly attractive; those of more recent "heroes" may also be authentic." (Gordon N. Ray).
Cohen-de Ricci, 951; Franklin, Catalogue of Early Colour Printing, p. 53; Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book 1700-1914, #86 (130 plates only); Matterlin 1976-78, p. 66.