Painter in a Savage Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America

Painter in a Savage Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America

Miles Harvey

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 1400061202

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this vibrantly told, meticulously researched book, Miles Harvey reveals one of the most fascinating and overlooked lives in American history. Like The Island of Lost Maps, his bestselling book about a legendary map thief, Painter in a Savage Land is a compelling search into the mysteries of the past. This is the thrilling story of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, the first European artist to journey to what is now the continental United States with the express purpose of recording its wonders in pencil and paint. Le Moyne’s images, which survive today in a series of spectacular engravings, provide a rare glimpse of Native American life at the pivotal time of first contact with the Europeans–most of whom arrived with the preconceived notion that the New World was an almost mythical place in which anything was possible.

In 1564 Le Moyne and three hundred other French Protestants landed off the coast of Florida, hoping to establish the first permanent European settlement in the sprawling territory that would become the United States. Their quest ended in gruesome violence, but Le Moyne was one of the few colonists to escape, returning across the Atlantic to create dozens of illustrations of the local Native Americans–works of lasting importance to scholars. Today, he is also recognized as an influential early painter of flowers and plants.
A Zelig-like persona, Le Moyne worked for some of the most prominent figures of his time, including Sir Walter Raleigh. Harvey’s research, moreover, suggests a fascinating link to the notorious Mary Queen of Scots. Largely forgotten until the twentieth century, Le Moyne’s pieces have become increasingly sought after in the art world–at a 2005 auction, a previously unknown book of his botanical drawings sold for a million dollars.
In re-creating the life and legacy of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, Miles Harvey weaves a tale of both intellectual intrigue and swashbuckling drama. Replete with shipwrecks, mutinies, religious wars, pirate raids, and Indian attacks, Painter in a Savage Land is truly a tour de force of narrative nonfiction.

Praise for Painter in a Savage Land

"Inspired, beautiful, and wholly original. Miles Harvey is an archeologist of forgotten stories, a master of finding astounding characters folded into the crevices of withered documents. In Painter in a Savage Land, he has breathed life into a thrilling and unlikely tale that, in the end, connects us all." --Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers and Crashing Through
"Like some lovable sleuth of the esoteric--a sort of scholarly Columbo--Miles Harvey has a way of stumbling onto intriguing historical tales entirely missed by others. With equal parts rigor and wonder, he has transported us to a surprising dawn-world when a bewildered Europe was making its first contacts with a bizarre and vulnerable continent." --Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers
"A fantastic brew of art, exploration and exploitation. Miles Harvey's story bristles with surprises on every page." --Laurence Bergreen, author of Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu and Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
"Miles Harvey has outdone himself with this absorbing account of the life and work of a mysterious French artist who was the first European to record visual impressions of North America. Harvey's investigation into the curious life, swashbuckling adventures and enduring legacy of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues is appealing on a number of compelling levels, adeptly done with style, elegance and a sure sense of story." --Nicholas A. Basbanes, author of A Gentle Madness, Among the Gently Mad and A Splendor of Letters
"Insatiable curiosity and fierce pursuit of fact combine to create a graceful exploration of worlds old and new." --Kirkus Reviews
"A fascinating exploration of the obscure life and violent times of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues. … Harvey's volume hits the sweet spot for both adventure buffs and history fans." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"One astonishing discovery after another …  Harvey's groundbreaking, fun-to-read biography blows dust off significant swathes of history and makes for a rousing read." --Booklist (starred review)
"[A] rip-roaring account of Le Moyne's adventures. ... It's a testament to Harvey's research and style that he can powerfully evoke a man about whom so few documentary traces remain." --Entertainment Weekly

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Catholics against a common enemy. Other scholars argue that instead of all-out war, he sought diplomatic leverage with the Spanish, who, out of concern for a French settlement near their shipping lanes, might have been convinced to make territorial or trade concessions in the New World. In either case, the admiral wanted to at­ tract as little Spanish attention as possible until the outpost was firmly established. He planned to send a reinforcement mission the following spring; until then, he

of Fontainebleau. As the art historian Gloria-Gilda Deák observed, the engraving of the Indian couple is “a wondrous document of the manner­ ist penchant for flaunting the human anatomy.” The chieftain is power­ fully built and “Apollo-like” while the women “appear as statuesque as the men. Le Moyne has depicted them with all the exquisite artificiality of Botticelli madonnas.” Even the moss skirts, “with the textural appeal of silk,” are reminiscent of the gossamer veils and girdles of flowers

was built there a re high mountains, called the Apalatci in the Indian language, where . . . three large streams rise and wash down silt in which a lot of gold, silver and copper is mixed.” These words accompany an illustration that shows a group of Indians panning for gold by collecting mineral-rich silt in hollow poles. “They put it in canoes and transport it down a great river, which we named the River of May and which flows to the sea.” PROMISED LAND 53 Such a matter-of-fact account of

considerable financial risk. The mariner would have to finance the venture himself, providing ships for it from his own fleet. And he would have to organize the entire expedition in a matter of weeks, for the anxious king wanted him to sail with five hun­ dred men by May 31. Signing the agreement on March 15, Menéndez departed Madrid to make preparations for the journey—plans that would change dramati­ cally just two weeks later with the arrival of a ship called the Vera Cruz. The vessel bore the

and voluptuous smells of the local flora, his eyes darting from face to face of those strangers on the beach, the men wearing deerskin loincloths, the women naked except for skirts of Span­ ish moss. Earlier in the century, when Europeans made their initial for­ ays into these waters, the Indians “regarded it as a miracle, for they had never seen ships,” according to one contemporary account. But even though the French had landed at this very spot just two years before, some of them even picking

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