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Swebach Desfontaines
(1749-1793)

Françoise Louis Swebach Desfontaines was born in Metz ca. 1745. It is not known whom, if anyone, he apprenticed under as an artist, but at the young age of about 20 he was hired in Metz to engrave plates for a history of that city, and was busy on the commission for at least two years. He also served for a time as sculptor to the Duke of Orleans. "Without formal training and supported only by his ardent imagination, he embraced all genres in the arts and appeared by turn sculptor, painter, engraver and mineralogist" (according to the obituary of his more prominent son, the painter and engraver Jacques-Francois-Joseph Swebach "de Fontaine," 1769-1823).

Desfontaines moved to Paris around 1780 and worked as an engraver for the Count of Artois. He had also become acquainted at that time with the Parisian mineralogist Jean Baptiste Louis Romé de l'Isle (1736-1790), and had assisted him in a project to make terracotta crystal models. De l'Isle began a project in 1781, writing the text for a book of mineral plates printed in color by Fabien Gautier d'Agoty, entitled Histoire Naturelle Règne Minéral.. When Gautier d'Agoty died after having issued only 30 plates, his widow (perhaps at de l'Isle's recommendation) engaged Desfontaines and an engraver named Bonvallet to continue the series. This he did, although being less comfortable with four-color printing than the innovative d'Agoty, he preferred to hand-color most of the 40 plates he produced. In the process he developed an intense interest in mineralogy, and began collecting specimens himself during his travels; he even published his own mineralogical text (Manuel Cristalographe) in 1792. He also left behind two unpublished works, a natural history of mineralogy dated 1789 (a collection of ten color plates each depicting 16 mineral specimens), and six folio-size volumes of specimen paintings, five of which are now in the British Museum. Nothing of his life is known after 1792.

W.E.W.

References:
Schuh, C. (2005) Mineralogy & Crystallography: An Annotated Bibliography of Books Published 1469 through 1919. Privately published, Tucson, 1203 pages.
Wilson, W. E. (1995) Fabien Gautier d'Agoty and his Histoire Naturelle Règne Minéral (1781). Mineralogical Record, 26, 65-76.

Click on thumbnail picture to see larger image.
Number of artworks found: 37 | Artworks being viewed: 17 to 24

The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - Pyrargyrite on Calcite, probably from Freiberg, Saxony Pyrargyrite on Calcite, probably from Freiberg, Saxony
Watercolor on paper (ca.1792), painted by Desfontaines, depicting (actual size) a 5-inch (?) specimen from the collection of M. Paris. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London; never published
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - Fluorite (locality unspecified) Fluorite (locality unspecified)
Watercolor on paper (ca.1792), painted by Desfontaines, depicting (actual size) a 5-inch (?) specimen from the collection of "Mr. Gargeot" (probably Arnould Carangeot). Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London; never published
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - Silver, probably Kongsberg, Norway Silver, probably Kongsberg, Norway
Watercolor on paper (ca.1792), painted by Desfontaines, depicting (actual size) a 6-inch (?) specimen from the collection of Gigot d'Orcy. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London; never published
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - Fluorite on Calcite (locality unspecified) Fluorite on Calcite (locality unspecified)
Watercolor on paper (ca.1792), painted by Desfontaines, depicting (actual size) a 5-inch (?) specimen from the collection of Gigot d'Orcy. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London; never published
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - Wolframite (locality unspecified) Wolframite (locality unspecified)
Watercolor on paper (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, depicting (actual size) a 6-inch (?) specimen from the collection of Jacob Forster, described in Desfontaines' Manuel Cristallographie (1792). Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London; never published
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - Fluorite (locality unspecified) Fluorite (locality unspecified)
Watercolor on paper (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, depicting (actual size) a 5-inch (?) specimen from the collection of Jacob Forster. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London; never published
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - Emerald, probably from Colombia Emerald, probably from Colombia
Watercolor on paper (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, depicting (actual size) a 4-inch (?) specimen from the collection of Gigot d'Orcy. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London; never published
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - Cassiterite with Quartz (locality unspecified) Cassiterite with Quartz (locality unspecified)
Watercolor on paper (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, depicting (actual size) a 6-inch (?) specimen from the collection of Jacob Forster. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London; never published
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