Ignace de Hell & Jules Laurens

Voyage en Turquie et en Perse, executé par ordre du gouvernement français pendant les années 1846, 1847, et 1848


In 1835, Ignace Hommaire de Hell, an engineering graduate of the École des Mines de Saint-Étienne, sailed to Turkey to oversee the construction of a suspension bridge in Constantinople and a lighthouse on the Black Sea coast. He extensively surveyed the surrounding region before settling with his family in southern Russia in 1838. In addition to ethnographical and commercial research, he carried out many geographical, industrial, and mining surveys for Czar Nicholas I for which he received the Cross of St. Vladimir. He supervised mining and road building projects for the prince of Moldavia, before illness forced him to return to France in 1842.

In 1843, de Hell became a member of the Société de Géographie and the Société de Géologie and started to publish scientific papers in collaboration with his wife, Jeanne Louise Adélaïde Hériot (1819-83), to whom he attributes the finer touches in his writings. He was awarded the Prize of the Société de Géographie, the Légion d’Honneur and was granted 3,000 Francs per year by the Ministry of Commerce and Agriculture to support a scientific mission to the Orient. In 1845 he travelled to Turkey via Italy where he was awarded the first gold medal for French scholars abroad by King Charles-Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia. Upon reaching Turkey he concentrated his reports on commerce in the Bosporus and the Black Sea, and set up the French consulates at Varna and Samsun.

In the autumn of 1847, he set off for Persia with the twenty two year old painter Jules Laurens. Anticipating a difficult journey he had sent his wife back to France, and indeed owing to ill health, he did not reach Tehran until February 1848. There he quickly became acquainted with General Barthélemy Semino who had spent over twenty years in Persia and who shared with him many geographical and scientific notes (despite a ban imposed by the Russian ambassador Count Semyonich). The French ambassador, Count de Sartiges, introduced him to Moḥammad Shah Qajar who authorized him to study the feasibility of a canal from Šahrud to Sāvojbolāq, and he spent a month engaged in surveys and archaeological observations culminating in a study of the Varāmin mosque. He returned to Tehran and then set off for Isfahan where he arrived extremely ill, and died within two weeks. His papers were returned to his wife who, in collaboration with Laurens and with the support of the French Government, was able to publish his research a few years after his death.

Jules Lauren went on to have a prolific career in France as a painter with an emphasis on the ‘Oriental’, a theme largely visited from memory from his great journey with de Hell into the lands little seen by Western eyes.

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 de Hell lithographs,  please do contact us.