Alcide d’Orbigny

Voyage dans l’Amerique Meridionale


Alcide Charles Dessalines d’Orbigny arrived in South America on a scientific mission from the museum of Paris in 1826, preceding Charles Darwin’s Beagle expedition by five years and causing the naturalist great concern that d’Orbigny would find all the best things first. Indeed in the nearly eight years d’Orbigny spent exploring Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, he catalogued and theorised on over 10,000 species of flora, fauna and fossils as well as native South Americans.

Although in his time d’Orbigny rivalled Darwin in his pursuits, he was not an evolutionist but a protégé of the influential Georges Cuvier. Cuvier believed in a series of worldwide exterminations or deluges followed by creations of new life forms. In support of this theory, d’Orbigny developed a 27-period geological time scale with one of his conclusions being that fossils could date rocks thus laying the foundations for the field of biostratigraphy. D’Orbigny was exceedingly productive throughout his relatively short career. His writings continued to be published long after his death, and modern palaeontologist still consult his work as do those with an interest in bryozoans (miniscule marine invertebrates) whilst his work on his cherished foraminifera (marine organisms) enjoyed a rebirth in the 20th century as those organisms are useful in oil and gas exploration. Although considered the founder of micropaleontology and biostratigraphy, for the most part d’Orbigny has faded in the shadow of his great rival; even the magnificent flightless bird he first recorded in South America is now known as Darwin’s Rhea having been incorrectly named by an unwitting John Gould.

These remarkable plates of Palms from mostly Bolivia and Paraguay were carefully drawn by the artists after the minute and exacting descriptions of d’Orbigny, and capture a moment in time when nature seemed to be unfolding countless riches and mysteries to the naturalists crisscrossing the globe in the hopes of being the first to record these heretofore unknown species.

Below are a few examples from this collection. Please click on an image to see it in high-resolution with details of the work itself. For the full list of original antique d’Orbigny lithographs available,  please do contact us.

d'Orbigny: Palms (Attalea). 1847. An original hand coloured lithograph. 9" x 12". [NATHISp7350]
Palms (Attalea): Cocos yatai, Cocos australis and Copernicus cerifera with a Bolivian in traditional dress.