The Astronomical Drawings

Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (Aisne 1827-1895 Meudon)

15 chromolithographs after pastels, the complete set of striking prints conceived by the Franco-American artist and astronomer showing planets, stars and comets, first edition, one of 300 examples only Each 61 x 96.5 cm (24 x 38 in.) New York, 1881

Remarkable large format lithographs of the solar system. «I sometimes ask myself whether I would be studying galaxies if they were ugly,« pioneering astronomer Vera Rubin observed in reflecting on our ongoing quest to know the universe. Hardly anyone has championed the role of beauty as a catalyst for cosmic enchantment more powerfully than the French artist and astronomer Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (1827–1895).

Appointed to the Harvard Observatory in 1872, Trouvelot was determined to make astronomy more accessible and captivating to the public, and to this end set about depicting «the celestial phenomena as they appear to a trained eye and to an experienced draughtsman.« Using the era´s greatest telescopes, he made astronomical observations and translated them into stunning art, most remarkable of which were his painstaking pastel drawings created over the course of two years in the early 1870s.

The best of Trouvelot´s pastels were exhibited alongside Alexander Graham Bell´s telephone, Heinz Ketchup, the first commercially successful typewriter, and the torch-clutching right arm of the Statue of Liberty at the first World´s Fair in Philadelphia — the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Trouvelot made some 7000 or so illustrations from his astronomical observations, the quality of which reached their zenith in the 15 exquisite pastel works which were published as The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings in 1882 in an edition of around 300 copies, published at 125 dollars, a huge price for the time, which nevertheless sold out immediately, such was the interest in the publication and its sheer quality.

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Shapero Rare Books

"Books, Maps and Manuscripts"

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