Catch of the day: two French fish illustrations from the 1800s


Chetodon croissant, a 20x200 Vintage Edition
8"x10" ($24) | 11"x14" ($60) | 16"x20" ($240)

When our curatorial team first reeled in these two vintage ichthyological illustrations from the 1800s, we were instantly hooked. Maybe it was the bright, beachy colors, or the mesmerizing swirls and stripes on their scales, or the delicate details rendered with exceptional precision, or the script-y french subtitles giving each aquatic critter a special je ne sais quoi. All we know is they seemed suddenly like the requisite edition duo of the summer, so good looking together and so instantly reminiscent of a spectacular scuba-diving sesh. We couldn’t release just one!

Our sunny yellow, orange-streaked friend is the Chetodon croissant, better known as the raccoon butterflyfish. Its English name comes from its distinct markings around the eyes, similar to those of a raccoon. The teal and turquoise fellow is the Holocanthe à demi-cercles, or semicircle angelfish. This particular illustration depicts a juvenile example—adults are a pale brownish-green, outlined in bright blue.

Both the Chetodon croissant and Holocanthe à demi-cercles come from the same multi-volume collection compiled by French naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier and his apprentice and successor Achille Valenciennes. Published between 1828 and 1848, the twenty-two volume Histoire naturelle des poissons was the largest contemporary scientific study focussed on fish. It contained descriptions and illustrations of almost 5,000 species of fish, many of which were new discoveries. The extensive work encapsulated essentially everything anyone knew about fish through the first half of the nineteenth century, and remains an indispensable resource and pivotal turning point in the history of ichthyology. 


Holocanthe à Demi-Cercles, a 20x200 Vintage Edition
8"x10" ($24) | 11"x14" ($60) | 16"x20" ($240)

Aside from being the foremost fish scientist of his time, Couvier was a major figure in the natural sciences at large. Best known for his book Le Règne Animal, he played an integral role in founding the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology by incorporating both living species and fossils into the existing taxonomy system. Another thing Couvier is famous for? Proving extinction, but not feeling so agreeable when it came to a little theory known as evolution. (You win some, you lose some.) Still, he’s one of the select seventy-two French scientists, engineers and mathematicians whose names are engraved on the Eiffel Tower.

There’s something about the intersection of art and science that's both fresh and timeless-feeling, and also peculiarly underappreciated. We have a growing collection of vintage zoological illustrations—Audubon’s avian life, these Oyster and Nautilus shells, E.A. Séguy’s butterflies—and every time we come across another one begging to be editioned we’re struck not just by the beauty of biodiversity, but by the breadth and brilliance of the genre. Which is to say, when it comes to these two fish, we’ve fallen for them hook, line and sinker. 


With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200 


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