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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 He also left behind two unpublished works, a natural history of mineralogy dated 1789 (a collection of ten color plates each depicting 16 mineral specimens), and six folio-size volumes of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.

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Number of artworks found: 37 | Artworks being viewed: 33 to 37

The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - <i>Mineralogie Complete,</i> Plate 7 Mineralogie Complete, Plate 7
Watercolor on paper, folio-size (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, prepared for his proposed but never-published book of hand-colored plates to be entitled Histoire Naturelle, ou Mineralogie Complete. The book was to depict a collection of minerals, probably idealized and recomposed to fit the compartments. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London.
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - <i>Mineralogie Complete,</i> Plate 8 Mineralogie Complete, Plate 8
Watercolor on paper, folio-size (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, prepared for his proposed but never-published book of hand-colored plates to be entitled Histoire Naturelle, ou Mineralogie Complete. The book was to depict a collection of minerals, probably idealized and recomposed to fit the compartments. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London.
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - <i>Mineralogie Complete,</i> Plate 9 Mineralogie Complete, Plate 9
Watercolor on paper, folio-size (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, prepared for his proposed but never-published book of hand-colored plates to be entitled Histoire Naturelle, ou Mineralogie Complete. The book was to depict a collection of minerals, probably idealized and recomposed to fit the compartments. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London.
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - <i>Mineralogie Complete,</i> Plate 9 alternate Mineralogie Complete, Plate 9 alternate
Watercolor on paper, folio-size (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, prepared for his proposed but never-published book of hand-colored plates to be entitled Histoire Naturelle, ou Mineralogie Complete. The book was to depict a collection of minerals, probably idealized and recomposed to fit the compartments. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London.
The Mineralogical Record: Swebach Desfontaines - <i>Mineralogie Complete,</i> Plate 10 Mineralogie Complete, Plate 10
Watercolor on paper, folio-size (ca.1793), painted by Desfontaines, prepared for his proposed but never-published book of hand-colored plates to be entitled Histoire Naturelle, ou Mineralogie Complete. The book was to depict a collection of minerals, probably idealized and recomposed to fit the compartments. Mineralogical Library, Natural History Museum, London.
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