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Aquarelle (pleurotus phosphoreus) de Jean-Henri Fabre © DR

The watercolours

Among Fabre’s many talents was watercolour The naturalist painted 700 watercolours of mushrooms, as precise as they are delicate.

This treasure was restored by the Bibliothèque centrale (Central Library) of the Museum in the Jardin des Plantes (Garden of Plants) in Paris following its discovery, in 1955, in the attic of the Harmas by his grandson. Ironically, Fabre had feared that his descendants would discard the watercolours after his death.

The library now holds more than 600 of them.

Aquarelle de Jean Henri-Fabre © MNHN
Aquarelle de Jean Henri-Fabre © MNHN
Aquarelle (pleurotus phosphoreus) de Jean-Henri Fabre © DR
Aquarelle de Jean Henri-Fabre © MNHN
Aquarelle de Jean Henri-Fabre © MNHN

“At Sérignan, my final stage, [mushrooms] have been prodigal with their seductions, so abundant are they in the neighbouring hills, wooded with Holm oak, arbutus and rosemary. These last years, such wealth has inspired a wildly ambitious project: to collect the effigies of what I have not been able to conserve in natural form in a herbarium. I have begun painting, in full size, all the species in my surroundings, from the largest to the smallest. The art of the watercolourist is unknown to me. What matter? What I have never been able to practise I will invent, painting at first poorly, then a little better, and finally well. The paint-brush will serve as a diversion from the bother of day-to-day prose. Here I am [...] in possession of a few hundred sheets upon which are represented, life-size and in natural colours, the various mushrooms of the vicinity. My collection has a certain value. If the artistic touch is lacking, at least it has the merit of exactness […].”

Souvenirs entomologiques, 10th series, Paris, Delagrave, 1925, p. 320-321.