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Painter in a Savage Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America Hardcover – June 24, 2008

4.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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*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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400061202
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061204
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,075,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
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Format: Hardcover
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!
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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.
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This was a very well written book about a very interesting man, Jacques Le Moyne, the first European artist in the Americas who made the earliest depictions of Native Americans seen in the Old World. As such his art and journals provide a wealth of information about the Native American tribes as they existed at first contact with Europeans. The book also focuses more on the action-adventure story of the battle between the Spanish and French which culminated with the Spanish massacring most of the inhabitants at this first French settlement although Le Moyne managed to escape and get back to Europe. The only real issue I had with this book is that it tended to defer to modern academics about the location of Fort Caroline and the Indian tribes which the French interacted in. Had the author done even some basic research on his own he would realize that the descriptions don't match Florida at all but instead match tribes in Georgia. Although Fort Caroline may have been located in modern Jacksonville, Florida the May River was not the St.Johns in Florida but instead the Altamaha in Georgia. This river flows from the Appalachian Mountains just as Le Moyne described it. Perhaps the French were afraid their dispatches might be intercepted by the Spanish and purposefully gave confusing and conflicting facts about the location of the fort but the description of gold mining Indians in the Appalachian Mountains matches only one rivershed: the Oconee-Altamaha River system that does indeed flow through the gold territory of the Appalachian Mountains.
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Great pictures, and a really little known part of our history. I had always wondered who really did those old old pictures of First Americans and I still wonder how accurate they were, but I'm thinking pretty accurate! A very interesting man living in very interesting times.
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Much of what we know about the Timucua Indians living in North Central Florida at the time the Spaniards arrived in the early 1500's is based on the sketches and descriptions by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, as converted to engravings by Theodor de Bry. In this book, Miles Harvey describes the life of the painter, the first to have come to these shores with an assignment to record native American life in pictures and writing. He was a member of a group of about 300 French Huguenots, who set sail in 1564 to establish a colony in Florida and founded Fort Caroline, at the mouth of the St. John's river. What follows is an incredible story of encounters with the Timucua, their support and politics, their chief Satiwa trying to get French help to defeat the tribes to the west led by Utina and Potano, promises to reach the gold and silver contents of the "apalatsi"mountains in the west, and trouble with supplies and food not coming from France as promised due to European politics and religious wars. There were attacks by pirates, mutinies, starvation, and finally destruction of the fort and murder of its inhabitants by the Spaniards led by Pedro Menendez in 1565, who saw the reformists as the devil who had to be killed. The supply ships commanded by Jack Ribault were caught further south and 300 huguenots were massacred in Matanzas, ending the French attempts at colonization.
Miraculously, Jacques Le Moyne escaped together with his commander Rene Laudonniere and "an elderly carpenter" named Nicolas Le Challeux. All three of them kept records of their expeditions, useful to explain Le Moyne's "water color drawings". When these drawings were produced is subject to much speculation. They were given to Theodor De Bry by Jacques Le Moyne's widow after his death.
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