Skip to main content

Research Guides

Exploration & Discovery: 1770–1840

Friedrich Heinrich von Kittlitz and Aleksandr Postels
Voyage of Fedor Petrovich Litke, Russian (1826-1829)

“Views of the vegetation, giving a general idea of the plants characteristic of a country are usually neglected during voyages to distant places. Messers. Postels and Kittlitz followed the counsel of their friend, Doctor Mertens, and assembled a large number of sketches of this type, some of which have been included in the Atlas issued with this book.” [25]

Introduction

An official voyage of exploration supplied with crew from the Russian Navy and scientists from the Russian Academy of Scientists, the goal of this voyage was the collection of scientific information. Commanding the ship Seniavin, Fedor Petrovich Litke, along with Postels and Kittlitz, collected specimens and made observations relating to Pacific Northwest botany, zoology, ornithology, geology, oceanography, and hydrography.

Original Publication

Litke’s account of the voyage was published almost simultaneously in Russian and French during the years 1834-1836, in a total of four volumes and two atlases for the narrative and hydrographic reports. The French edition is titled Voyage Autour du Monde, exécuté par ordre de Sa Majesté l'empereur Nicolas 1er, sur la corvette le Séniavine, dans les années 1826, 1827, 1828 et 1829, par Frédéric Lutké ... commandant de l'expédition.

The pictorial atlas, published only in French but meant to accompany the Russian edition as well, contains maps and 51 illustrative plates along with explanatory text written by Postels and Kittlitz. Ten of the plates relate to the Pacific Northwest and include interior and exterior views of architecture, ethnographic portraits, views of the forest with particular devotion to botanical detail, and scenes of Native American life.

Kittlitz also published his own account in 1858, entitled Denkwürdigkeiten einer reise nach dem russischen Amerika, nach Mikronesien und durch Kamtschatka. The two volumes record Kittlitz’s observations and research, and within the text are small illustrations. Volume 1 has 21 illustrations embedded in the text and 2 plates. Of the illustrations, one is a botanical drawing from Sitka and another is of Aleutian house. Volume 2 also lists illustrations: 21 in text, and 2 plates, but none relate to the Pacific Northwest.

Biographies of Artists

Artists and naturalists Friedrich Heinrich Baron von Kittlitz (1799-1874) and Aleksandr Filippovich Postels (1801-1871) substantially contributed to the artistic and scientific evidence of the voyage. Litke records, “During the actual voyage, a portfolio of 1,250 sketches was established; 700 by Mr. Postels, 350 by Doctor Mertens (naturalist and physician), and 200 by Baron Kittlitz. On the return of the expedition, all of these collections were deposited at the Museum of the Imperial Academy of Sciences.” [26]

Friedrich Kittlitz was born in Breslau (in present day Poland). He volunteered for the army at the age of 13, and continued his military service while also exploring his interests in ornithology and art. Eventually leaving the military to pursue his interest in science (he is described in the crew sheet as Retired captain in the service of Prussia), his job in accompanying Litke was to “hunt, collect, describe, and illustrate birds.”[27]Returning from the voyage, Kittlitz spent time assembling materials for his own personal account of the voyage (published in 1858) as well as giving scientific lectures.

Kittlitz provides a vivid account of the challenges faced in transforming drawings to reproducible lithographs on the first page of Litke’s historical atlas. His account is interesting enough to quote in full: “When the question of publishing this Atlas arose, I was far from Petersburg and could not be consulted on the execution of this work. Naturally, certain misunderstandings resulted; some of the drawings were not inserted in their proper order, others were given titles which do not correspond exactly to the explanations of the plates concerned; furthermore, there are some plates included with still require final touches, but since most of the plates had been prepared with the greatest care, it was hoped that these at least would be lithographed with complete precision. The result proves that we were mistaken in this regard and also that the format of the Atlas was too small to permit an exact and correct reproduction of the character and the delicate shadings of the plants, as well as the national traits of the human figures, a condition so essential in any work of this type. Perhaps it is just not possible to execute such a work perfectly, other than under the close supervision of the author without such mistakes arising, even though the original sketches are perfectly clear and precise. I could hardly explain any of these plates without having to correct some errors. However, far from reproaching the artists in any way, since distance often makes such errors inevitable, I will restrict myself to pointing out only those errors which might mislead the reader and will endeavor to make a true picture of objects with which he is not familiar.”[28]

Less is known about the personal life of Postels (described in crew sheet as Mineralogist and sketch-artist). He was key to the expedition, producing sketches of amphibians and fish, as well as recording botanical and ethnographical material.

Holdings

Special Collections holds the original French publication by Litke dating from 1835 with the accompanying historical atlas (ex libris Evan Charles Sutherland-Walker). Also housed here is Kittlitz’ 1858 personal account.

To see folio-sized reproductions of Postels’ and Kittlitz’s art from Litke’s voyage, look at the Bibliotheca Australiana series, number 61.

Other works about Litke can be found by looking under LC call number G420.L5713, Dewey call number 979.511pF.


[25] F. P. Litke, A Voyage around the World, 1826-1829 : Volume 1, to Russian America and Siberia / by Frederic Litke ; Translated from the French Edition by Renee Marshall ; Supplemented with a Parallel Account by E.H. Baron Von Kittlitz, Translated from the German, with an Introduction, by Joan Moessner ; Edited by Richard A. Pierce, (Kingston, Ontario: Limestone Press, 1987), x.
[26] Ibid., xi.
[27] Ibid., 122. This excerpt is from an introductory section to Kittlitz.
[28] F. P. graf Litke, Voyage Autour Du Monde, 1826-1829, (Amsterdam, New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), 1. See asterisked comment.