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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Rene Primevere Lesson

c. 1830
Ambroise Tardieu (engraver)

engraving on paper (sheet: 21.5 cm x 15.0 cm, image: 10.2 cm x 7.7 cm)

René Primevère Lesson (1794–1849), French surgeon, naturalist, ornithologist, and herpetologist, entered the Naval Medical School in Rochefort at the age of sixteen. He served in the French Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, rising to the post of second surgeon on the Regulus before embarking as pharmacist and botanist on Duperrey's round-the-world voyage of La Coquille between 1822 and1825. On the voyage he was responsible for collecting natural history specimens with his fellow surgeon Prosper Garnot and officer Dumont d'Urville. Lesson’s account of the voyage contains scientific details and also several vocabularies and grammatical analyses, particularly of the Maori language but also of languages of New South Wales. The illustrations include plates of views, Indigenous objects and tools, as well as coastal profiles and hand coloured plates of the kangaroo, kiwi, possum, platypus, wombat, and several birds of paradise (Lesson is said to have been the first naturalist to see live birds of paradise in the Moluccas and New Guinea). The Coquille visited Sydney in 1824, remaining there from 17th January to 20th March. Bungaree visited Duperrey; Lesson described their encounters in some detail. Lesson and Durville travelled over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst, Lesson reporting that ‘we climbed a high eminence where the road formerly passed, for today it winds on the mountain side taking an easy grade. M. d'Urville and I climbed this old road with difficulty and we enjoyed the view of enormous precipices, deep chasms, in short the ruins of nature, which impressed us deeply. On this wind-beaten height stand rocks of various shapes. One of them bore the epitaph of a young man who died there in 1822, and whose still fresh grave will make me call this mount Mount Sepulchre.’ On returning to Paris, Lesson spent seven years preparing the vertebrate zoological section of the official account of the expedition, Voyage autour du monde sur La Coquille (1826–39). During this time he also produced Manuel d'Ornithologie (1828), Traité d'Ornithologie (1831), Centurie Zoologique (1830–32) and Illustrations de Zoologie (1832–35). He also compiled several monographs on hummingbirds and one book on birds of paradise as well as describing many new species of amphibians and reptiles. His experience as a ship's surgeon resulted in his two-volume Manuel d'Histoire Naturelle Médicale et de Pharmacologie (1833), intended as a handbook for all naval surgeons. In 1839 he became Chief Pharmacist for the Navy at Rochefort.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2012

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Ambroise Tardieu (age 42 in 1830)

René Primevère Lesson (age 36 in 1830)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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