Trouvelot's Magnificent Astronomical Drawings

E.L. Trouvelot (1827-1895) was born in Aisne, France and emigrated to Massachusetts in his late 20s. An interest in astronomy helped him secure a position on the staff of the Harvard College Observatory in 1872. Working regularly with Harvard's legendary 15-inch refractor, Trouvelot prepared hundreds of sketches for the series Astronomical Engravings from the Observatory of Harvard College (1876), which boasted 35 plates, many in color.

This early work prompted Trouvelot to create a detailed series of large pastel drawings of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon of Earth, and a number of celestial phenomena, such as sunspots and the zodiacal light. His aim was to represent "the celestial phenomena as they appear to the trained eye and to an experienced draughtsman through the great modern telescopes." The drawings were displayed at the United States Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876, as part of the Massachusetts exhibit in the Department of Education and Science. Charles Scribner's Sons reproduced fifteen of the drawings in a limited edition using extremely high-level chromolithography, an illustration process that was at the zenith of its development in the 1880s. Production was time-consuming and costly, but so exacting was the work of the Riverside Press that to this day the color plates in The New York Public Library retain their original intensity and clarity. NYPL's copy is the only complete edition of the Astronomical Drawings held by a public library.

An interesting sidelight on Trouvelot: originally his interest lay in raising silk worms. His efforts to hybridize the native Polyphemus silkworm with the gypsy moth resulted in an accidental escape "” and, hence, the annual devastation from these pests that continues to plague the agriculture industry.


E.L. (Étienne Léopold) Trouvelot. The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons [Reproduced from the original drawings by Armstrong & Company, Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts], 1882.
The New York Public Library, Science, Industry and Business Library, from the Astor Library.


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