On 5 October 2016, Sotheby’s Paris will have the honour of dispersing a selection of books from the outstanding Hunting Library of the Counts du Verne: the largest collection to appear on the market for the last thirty years. The library was built up and enriched with fervent dedication over more than a century and a half by three generations of collectors: Joseph du Verne, then his son Pierre du Verne, who passed on his passion to his daughter Nicole du Verne-Bernis.
Joseph du Verne began to collect hunting and hawking books in the late 19th century, attending the most prominent bibliophile auctions of the period, like Baron Jérôme Pichon's sale in 1894 and the dispersion of the Duchesse d’Uzès' hunting library in 1933. At his death, his son Pierre du Verne inherited his passion and consulted the leading specialists of his time, including the bookseller Jules Thiébaud, co-author of the key work Bibliographie des ouvrages sur la chasse. In 1960, Nicole du Verne, the wife of Charles de Pierre, Comte de Bern is (a descendant of Louis XV's famous minister and himself a keen bibliophile), inherited the collection in turn, and continued to add to and improve it.
This first selection consists of nearly 270 books: mostly works that have marked the history of hunting literature and imagery from the 15th to the 20th century, but also technical treatises, antique classics, sets of engravings, illustrated books enriched with original drawings and a number of manuscripts.
This assortment offers a magnificent overview of the development of hunting practices in every form over five centuries: hunting with hounds, shooting, falconry, poaching, breeding, horse-riding and soon. No other comparable collection has come up at auction since the sale of Marcel Jeanson's library (Sotheby’s Monaco, 1987).
With rare editions, collections of prints, original drawings, unique copies and curiosities, the du Verne library covers the entire range of books on hunting.
Copies come from prestigious sources: Jérôme Pichon, Grandjean d’Alteville, the Comte du Fresne, Auguste Veinant, Schwerdt, Huzard, Baron de Lassus, the Duchesse d’Uzès, the Prince d’Essling and the Duc de Chartres are just some of the illustrious booklovers who have left their ex-libris or stamps on these copies.
Great classics and legendary rarities
History's greatest hunter-writers take up the first rank of this selection, headed by the illustrious Jacques du Fouilloux, author of a seminal book in French hunting literature. His Vénerie, dedicated to Charles IX, remarkably illustrated, often copied and imitated, is present in no fewer than five editions, including the extremely rare princeps edition published in Poitiers in 1561 (estimate: €100,000/150,000). A very rare first edition of Jean de Clamorgan's La Chasse du loup, which adds further to the Maison Rustique, also features in the sale (estimate: €30,000/40,000).
The Déduits de la chasse des bestes sauvaiges et des o yseaux de proye by Gaston Phébus. Paris, c. 1507 (estimate: €150,000/200,000). One of the key lots in the sale, the treatise by Gaston Phébus, a remarkable soldier and an even more remarkable hunter, is described by Thiébaud as "the oldest major treatise on hunting with hounds written in French". Composed in around 1370, it was the only hunting treatise available to French readers, together with Le Roy Modus, until the arrival of Du Fouilloux.
The first book on hunting to come from the press of a Paris printer, this precious book is only known through less than a dozen copies.
Just as rare is the third edition of Phébus, published with a slightly modified title. Bibliographers have only located ten or so copies.
Le livre du roy Modus & de la royne Racio qui parle du deduit de la chasse a toutes bestes sauvaiges...Paris, 1526 (estimate: €70,000/100,000). Attributed to Henry de Ferrières (1354-1377), the Livre du roy Modus & de la royne Racio is "the oldest printed book dealing exclusively with hunting" (Thiébaud).
The du Verne sale features the extremely rare edition of 1526, lavishly illustrated with woodcuts, together with the edition of 1560, in which, for the first time, the hunting book has been separated from the short moral treatise forming the second part of previous editions.
Treatises on falconry
Literature on the noble art of the falconer, much prized in both Western and Eastern courts, occupies a prime place in the du Verne collection.
It contains an admirable late 15th century manuscript of the Fauconnerie by Franchières, followed by the second printed edition of the same treatise (1567), the extremely rare manuals of Arcussia (1599, second edition), Gommer (1594) and Harmont (1620), and literary works taking their imagery and technical jargon from falconry.
First and foremost, Le Faulcon d’amours or Livre du Faucon, an incunabulum, is present as the only known copy of the edition published in c. 1500: as rare as the two editions that preceded it, if not more so (estimate: €60,000/80,000).
Hunting literature from the 15th to the 20th century
The three generations of booklovers who built up this remarkable collection aimed to form a complete picture of French hunting books of every period. Purely hunting-focused authors are found alongside writers who at first glance seem out of place in hunting literature - but who could be totally unaware of a sport that set the tone of Western society for over five centuries, permeating every layer of culture and power?
Here Du Fouilloux rubs shoulders with Ronsard, Salnove with La Fontaine, Gommer with Passerat and Jodelle, Chevigné with Dumas and so on, right through to Louis Pergaud and Maurice Genevoix, whose works illustrate both a passion for hunting and a powerful feeling for nature.
Albums and sets of prints
Major artists who lent their pencils, brushes or gravers to the art of hunting have a natural niche in the du Verne collection. Antonio Tempesta, Jost Amman, Adrien Collaert, Johann Elias Ridinger, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Jean Pillement, Carle Vernet, Honoré Daumier and Victor Adam are some of the painters, draughtsmen and engravers who enriched the iconography and imaginative world of hunting. All these artists and more feature in the sale.
Modern illustrated books
All bibliophiles-cum-hunters know that their favourite subject, hunting, is an intrinsic part of their daily lives.
The collectors who built up the du Verne library were keen to include 20th century works as well, most often illustrated by well-known artists such as Paul Jouve, Karl Reille, Mathurin Méheut, Joseph Oberthur, Charles-Jean Hallo and Xavier de Poret.
Most copies of these illustrated books contain original watercolours or drawings. Just one of many is the Duc de Brissac's Chasse, containing nine signed watercolours and ten original drawings by Paul Jouve (estimate: €30,000/40,000).
These are just a few examples, and only represent a tiny part of the extraordinary variety of the du Verne library. This first sale features a splendid array.