Adolphe Millot, from the encyclopedias to your wall

Adolphe Millot, from the encyclopedias to your wall

Adolphe Millot (1857 – 1921) was a French painter, lithographer, and entomologist (a zoological scientist specialising in insects). He is best remembered today for his illustrations for the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle (The French National Museum of Natural) and the French encyclopedic dictionary Petit Larousse's natural history section. 

Although many of his beautiful illustrations survive, including his flowerfruit, and butterfly charts, we know very little about the man himself. We know for certain that he was a lithographer, a member of the Salon des Artistes Francaise, and a member of the Société entomologique de France (French Entomological Society). 

Lithography is a printing process invented in the 18th century. It was discovered by Alois Senefelder of Munich, who, after numerous experimentations, realised that etching away the remainder of a flat surface, after drawing with a grease pencil, that the illustration would stay. After publishing his process in Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey (A Complete Course of Lithography) in 1818, lithography quickly became a popular mode of print. The process was utilised by artists in France, including Honoré Daumier, Francisco de Goya, and Édouard Manet. Coloured lithographs, known as chromolithographs or oleographs, were developed during the 19th century. Millot's later work featured many coloured lithographs. 

To create a lithograph, you start with something flat, polished, and grease-treated, usually a metal plate or a stone slab, as your drawing's base. This is important because non-greasy surfaces repel ink. Draw your illustration onto the stone using something oil-based, preferably a specially designed lithography crayon. Next, coat the slab with a layer of rosin and talc, and paint the surface with a chemical etch, a combination of gum arabic and a mild acid solution, which repels the ink, fixing the drawing to the surface, and attracts moisture to the blank areas. Once the blank areas are dry, you wipe water onto them to prevent ink smears. Next, place the stone, with your drawing facing up, on a lithographic press, lay a damp piece of paper on top with a tympan board. Finally, lower a pressure bar onto the tympan and stone and drag it across the surface until it passes through the pressure bar. And voilà! 


Lithographic Press
“Lithographic Press” (The Boy’s Book of Industrial Information)


Like many artists in France at the time, Millot was a member of the Salon des Artistes Francaise. Academies dedicated to the study and appreciation of art first appeared in France during the 17th century Renaissance and remained influential until the early 20th. They were first established by Louis XIV and lasted from 1667 – 1704, becoming popular again during Louis XV's reign (1710 – 1774). These salons were characterised by their neoclassical and academic approach to art and were often criticised by more experimental artists, such as Impressionists and Fauvists. It is unclear what Millot thought of these salons' approach to art, but judging by his surviving work and long membership, it is likely he supported their approach. 

Millot, after all, was a scientist as well as an artist. 

Before the Renaissance, knowledge was broadly divided into two types: divinity (with science being studied through religious texts rather than observation) and the humanities. Science was not considered important. The Renaissance ignited a new fascination with the natural world, and so a third type of knowledge was created: natural history and philosophy. Natural history's increasing popularity was reflected in the establishment of the Muséum National D'histoire Naturelle (French National Museum of Natural History) by Louis XIII in 1635. It originally served as the royal garden of medicinal plants before becoming part of a museum after the French Revolution. 

 Jardin des Plantes
Jardin des Plantes at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle

The 19th century was a wonderful time to be a scientist. The culture of scientific endeavor was "largely driven by amateur scientists", as explains Trish Rose-Sandler of the Biodiversity Heritage Library explains, "who were not necessarily trained in scientific observation but had a deep enthusiasm for the natural world". Discoveries were being made every day and for someone like Millot who specialised in entomology, the increasing passion and respect for what was known then as natural history (inquiry of living organisms in their natural environment) was a dream come true. 

Insects Chart Larousse Poster

The Société Entomologique de France (French Entomological Society) was founded in 1832, and it quickly established itself as an institution dedicated to contributing to the development of entomology. They were particularly active publishers, regularly writing about their scientific discoveries and observations in Bulletin de la Société Entomologique de France, Annales de la Société Entomologique de France and L'Entomologiste, Revue d'Amateurs. It is obvious why Millot would have been attracted to society. 

Millot's talents lay in the accurate representation of living organisms, and his skill caught the eye of the Muséum National D'histoire Naturelle. Before the invention of photography, scientists relied on artists to make detailed drawings that they could feature in periodicals, textbooks, and diagrams for schools and museums. Millot quickly became the senior illustrator for the Muséum National D'histoire Naturelle, capturing everything from feathers, eggs, medicinal plants, vegetables, insects, reptiles, and ocean creatures. His works are busy, often featuring numerous examples of his subject within the frame. They were a great addition to any kitchen, bathroom, or conservatory space. 




Vintage Boxe Chart Larousse





Read More

What is lithography and how we turn it into wall art?

Lithography was invented in 1796 by German author and actor Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works. Here you can read more on this beautiful technique and take a look at some of our favourite motifs from the Antique Illustrations collection.

Top five things you need to know when buying a vintage poster

Looking for some new wall art? Maybe you’ve even found the fine art print of your dreams for your living room. Before you hand over your hard earned readies, here’s our handy guide to buying a vintage poster.


Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing