*Starred Review* From a doomed French fort on what became the site for Jacksonville, Florida, to the streets of Paris and London, where Huguenots and Lutherans were burned at the stake, to the auction rooms of Sotheby’s, the dramatic story of the long-lost artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues is a veritable tale of nine lives. Historian Harvey (The Island of Lost Maps, 2000) marvels at the “epic strangeness” of his subject’s complicated life story. Le Moyne was the first artist sent to North America when he set sail from Le Havre in 1564 with 300 men sent to stake a claim for France in Florida but fated to suffer starvation and violent death. Le Moyne not only survived and returned home; he also managed to create marvelously stylized drawings of the tragically doomed Timucuan people. He then escaped religious persecution in France and found sanctuary in London, where he became a leading botanical artist and advisor to Walter Raleigh. It’s one astonishing discovery after another as Harvey retrieves the buried truth about Le Moyne and chronicles the nearly miraculous preservation of his work. With hugely entertaining side journeys, energetic analysis, and a diabolical surprise ending, Harvey’s groundbreaking, fun-to-read biography blows the dust off significant swathes of history and makes for a rousing read. --Donna Seaman
About the Author
Miles Harvey is the author of The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, a national and international bestseller that was named one of the top ten books of 2000 by USA Today and the Chicago Sun-Times. The recipient of a 2004-2005 Illinois Arts Council Award for prose and a 2007-2008 Knight-Wallace fellowship at the University of Michigan, he teaches at Northwestern University and lives in Chicago with his wife and children.
PAINTER IN A SAVAGE LAND; THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE FIRST EUROPEAN ARTIST IN NORTH AMERICA is a top pick for any art history collection: it offers a well-researched yet lively survey of one Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, the first European artist to travel around the U.S. capturing its wonders I pencil and paint. In 1564 he and three hundred other French Protestants landed off the coast of Florida - he was one of the few to live the experience, returning home to create dozens of illustrations of America's Native Americans. A powerful, highly recommended art history, this also deserves a place in any collection strong in early American history.
Miles Harvey once again provides an example of excellent storytelling; not only does he give life to an important but relatively unknown period in our collective history, but he excels at crafting a story that subtly ties the past to the present. I like his exhaustive research, and how he can stick to the facts while exploring possibilities and make relevant the lives of people who previously felt so distant. His treatment of indigenous Terra Floridians speaks to his ability to examine people and places from more than one perspective. He knows how to engage a reader!
Jacque le Moyne de Morgues, Miles Harvey ultimately concludes, may never have intended to lead quite as adventurous life as he did. Still, given just how dramatic that life proved to be -- he escaped death narrowly on countless occasions during his travels in the New World, only to flee his home country and settle in England to avoid religious persecution, churning out pioneering art work along the way -- it's astonishing that le Moyne is so unknown outside a narrow circle of conoisseurs and collectors of his botanical prints.
Even Harvey stumbled across le Moyne by accident, while promoting his previous book The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime (which tells an equally obscure but fascinating tale albeit in a more idiosyncratic way). In Florida, a chance encounter makes him aware of a real-life story that lies behind the early map of Florida that illustrated his first book: the saga of France's efforts to found a permanent settlement in the New World -- Fort Caroline, now long since vanished -- and to the artist who accompanied them, Jacques Le Moyne. The handful of artistic works that he produced of Florida's native inhabitants as well as its flaura and fauna are not only the earliest record of region, but a tribute to a now-vanished civilization. Within decades of le Moyne's capturing their images, the Spanish had converted them by force to Catholicism and many were dead of disease, leaving their traditions to vanish into thin air.Read more ›
This is a book that I thought no one would ever have the knowledge, language skills or sheer perseverance to write. As such, I am amazed that Miles Harvey, not only took this project on, but has completed it in such a masterful manner.
Having grown up in Jacksonville, Florida I was aware of Charles Bennett's obsession with documenting attempts by the French and Spanish in the 1560's to colonize and claim Florida. He knew that both countries had expended considerable time, effort and riches to try and establish a foothold in northeast Florida, all to gain access to and protect the Gulf Stream shipping lanes and expand westward to claim the gold, silver and other riches believed to exist in these unknown lands. Bennett, a World War II hero who served more than 40-years in Congress, wrote a number of books on the clashes between France and Spain in Florida (most notably, "Settlement of Florida"), and, - almost single-handedly, using his own personal funds and congressional influence - helped to establish the Fort Caroline National Historic Memorial.
There are many reasons as to why the French-Spanish conflict in Florida has been neglected and Miles Harvey is a brave scholar to pick-up where Bennett and only a few other historians have dared to tread.
First and foremost is the problem that historians have typically exhibited difficulty overcoming the "winner writes the history" context of British and Puritan, Quaker and Calvinist influence on writers of Florida/American history. Second, there is the enormous complexity of this era because the primary sources exist in four languages (English, French, Dutch and Spanish) and are found only in obscure libraries and archives in Europe - if they still exist at all.Read more ›