drawing from history

by erin thursby
Through January, the Cummer Museum exhibition Discoveries in Detail: Jaques Le Moyne and Theodor de Bry, featuring four exhibits.
The first is a series of botanical watercolors from the French artist Jaques Le Moyne. La Moyne is most famous for these, but prior to that, in 1564, he was hired by the French Huegnots to be the official artist and cartographer on their expedition of Ft. Caroline. He was the first trained artist in the New World. The art he created on that historic expedition right in our backyard is lost forever, but we do have etchings from Theodor de Bry as the second exhibit, Voyages to the New World: Jaques Le Moyne and Theodor de Bry. De Bry’s etchings are based on Le Moyne’s art from the Ft. Caroline expedition– nominally anyway.
Curator Holly Keris says it’s like the artist’s version of “a game of telephone.” The original images created by Le Moyne were all tragically burned during the raiding of the Fort Caroline by the Spanish from St. Augustine. The artist escaped with his life and memories but with no watercolors or sketches to bring back to France. Years later, Le Moyne recreated watercolors from his memories. Theodor de Bry used those images as a basis for his etchings, used to accompany an account of the expedition, entitled A Brief History of Those Things Which Befell the French in Florida. De Bry’s etchings, then, are three times removed from Le Moyne’s originals, first by a span of years and perhaps faulty recollection, then by de Bry himself.
Le Moyne was one of the first artists to blend the exactness of scientific observation with an artistic eye. We can see that in his botanical watercolors he recorded plants as they actually were. This doesn’t seem all that revolutionary now, but artistic license ran rampant when it came to botanical sketches before him. They were either rendered only with an eye toward beauty or merely for accuracy. Le Moyne has both, and he doesn’t simply paint perfect specimens. The pear will have a little bruising, the apple’s leaves will be chewed a little by an unseen assailant.
When looking at these works, at Le Moyne’s eye for detail, and then looking at the etchings by de Bry, it’s difficult to believe that Le Moyne would draw Native American women like Botticelli drew Europeans, or that he would give alligators ears. That de Bry took liberties with Le Moyne’s reproduced watercolors is clear. Sadly, we don’t even know which of the etchings were made up out of whole cloth, and which were actually largely based on the redone Le Moyne watercolors.
Two more modern exhibits are on display as a response and are a measure of the Cummer’s commitment to the community. The breathtaking Artist Response: Botanicals, are local artists’ reinterpretations of botanical artwork in response to Le Moyne’s botanicals. Locals Linda Broadfoot, Emily Arthur Douglass and Susan Ober. The other modern work exhibition is New View: Botanicals, from students at Douglas Anderson, continuing in Le Moyne’s tradition of botanical illustration.
For info on special events and programs connected with the exhibition, please check our art events section through January or go to the website at www.cummer.org or call 356-6857. These exhibits will be on display through January 10th.

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october, 2021