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Exploration & Discovery: 1770–1840

Lieutenant Blondela and Gaspard Duché de Vancy 
Voyage of Jean Françoise Galaup de la Pérouse, French (1785-1788)

“He will direct the draughtsmen embarked on board the frigates, to take views of all remarkable places and countries, portraits of the natives of different parts, their dresses, ceremonies, games, buildings, boats and vessels, and all the productions of the sea and land, in each of the three kingdoms of nature, if he shall think that drawings of them will render the descriptions more intelligible.”[12]

Introduction

French navigator Jean Françoise Galaup de la Pérouse, on the commanding ship L’Astrolabe and La Boussole, embarked on a voyage of scientific discovery. The scientific contributions of the voyage were small, due to the untimely and tragic disappearance of both vessels and crew after leaving Botany Bay, Australia, in October 1788. But fortunately, the coastline charting and artistic contributions were monumental. La Pérouse regularly sent reports, charts, and drawings back to France throughout his expedition. The wreckage of La Pérouse’s ships on the island of Vanikoro were later discovered through the efforts of Peter Dillion and further investigation by J.S.C. Dumont-Durville. Stories from local people recounted that many of the shipwrecked survivors were murdered. Compellingly, one of the boats, through wrecked, had survivors who were able to modify the ship into a two-masted vessel, and all of those men but two sailed away into permanent disappearance.

Original Publication

The official publication in 1797 was entitled Voyage de La Pérouse Autour du Monde, Publié Conformément au Décret du 22 Avril 1791, et Rédige par M.L.A. Milet-Mureau. It was published in 4 volumes with an accompanying folio atlas.

The folio atlas contains 66 plates, seven of which relate to the Pacific Northwest, particularly the Port des Français, now known as Lituya Bay in southeast Alaska. The plates include a drawing by Blondela,  “Vue d’un Établissement des Habitans du Port des Français pour La Saison de la Pêche.” engraved by Le Grande; a bird; habitation and dress of the inhabitants of the Port des Français by de Vancy; the loss of two French boats in the bay; and boats in the Port des Français by Blondela.

Biographies of Artists

Gaspard Duchè de Vancy, official artist of the expedition, was raised in Vienna and exhibited artworks at the Salon of Young Artists in Paris in 1781 and at the Royal Academy in London in 1784. He was commissioned to execute several royal portraits, including Stanislaus of Poland and the secretary of the Kingdom of Naples (both in 1784), and Marie Antoinette at an unknown date.[13] A print of de Vancy’s depicting Voltaire’s Chamber of the Heart is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. [14]

Lieutenant Blondela (first name unknown) entered the French military as a volunteer in 1777 and continued his naval service on the east coast of the United States, in the West Indies, and back in France before joining the La Pérouse expedition.[15] While not officially assigned as artist to the expedition, Blondela’s talents were a great asset to the voyage's visual record. La Pérouse commented on Blondela in his journal, “he applies himself with a degree of assiduity, and executes with an intelligence, order and neatness, that are deserving of the highest encomiums” [16].

Holdings

Special Collections holds original and subsequent editions of La Pérouse’s Voyage with the accompanying atlas. Search by Library of Congress (LC) Subject "La Pérouse, Jean Francois De Galaup, comte de 1741-1788," by Dewey call number 979.511 L31, and by LC call number G420 .L22.

Bibliotheca Australiana reproduced the atlas accompanying La Pérouse’s Voyage. It can be found in Special Collections, in the oversize Reference area, DU80 .B52 no. 29.


[12] Jean-François de Galaup La Pérouse, comte de, 1741-1788, A Voyage Round the World : Performed in the Years 1785, 1786, 1787 and 1788, by the Boussole and Astrolabe, under the Command of J.F.G. De La Pérouse : Published by Order of the National Assembly under the Superintendence of L.A. Milet-Mureau ... Translated from the French, vol. 3 (London: Printed by S. Hamilton for G.G. and J. Robinson and T. Payne, 1799), 38. Instructions to La Pérouse, Part 3: Operations respecting Astronomy, Geography, Navigation, Physics, and the different branches of Natural History.
[13] John Frazier Henry, Early Maritime Artists of the Pacific Northwest Coast, 1741-1841, 145.
[14] Edith A. Standen, "The Mistress & the Widow," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25, no. 5 (1967). See figure 8.
[15] Henry, Early Maritime Artists of the Pacific Northwest Coast, 1741-1841 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984), 140.
[16] La Pérouse, A Voyage Round the World : Performed in the Years 1785, 1786, 1787 and 1788, by the Boussole and Astrolabe, under the Command of J.F.G. De La Pérouse : Published by Order of the National Assembly under the Superintendence of L.A. Milet-Mureau ... Translated from the French, volume 2, 135-40.