The Astronomical Drawings of Monsieur Trouvelot

8 May

Back in the late 19th century, when astrophotography was still in its infancy, stargazers had to get creative if they wanted to take snapshots of the heavens. Luckily, there were people around like Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, a talented French artist with a penchant for astronomy. Trouvelot moved to the States with his family when he was in his 20s, and is probably best known for an unfortunate incident in which he introduced the gypsy moth into North America – now a notorious pest of hardwood trees.

The upside of this mishap, though, was that Trouvelot turned to astronomy and began to draw what he saw in the night sky. For some of his illustrations – the close-ups of the planets and the Moon, for example – Trouvelot used some of the most powerful telescopes available at the time, such as the 26″ refractor at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.. For others, like his depictions of the comet and the meteor shower, Trouvelot just drew what he observed with his naked eye.

In 1882, the artist published fifteen of his drawings in a book – the Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings Manual. Here are some of my favourites, starting off with a stunning aurora and a Cyclops-esque Jupiter:

The aurora borealis (Northern Lights), observed 1st March 1872

The planet Jupiter, observed 1st November 1880

The November Meteors (the Leonids), observed between midnight and 5:00 a.m. on the night of 13th-14th November 1868

A group of sunspots and veiled spots, observed 17th June 1875

A star cluster in the Hercules constellation, from a study made in June 1877

A close-up of the Moon’s Mare Humorum (“Sea of Moisture”), from a study made in 1875

The Great Comet of 1881, observed on the night of 25th-26th June at 1:30 a.m.

The complete set of images is available to view in the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

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One Response to “The Astronomical Drawings of Monsieur Trouvelot”

  1. katkasia May 9, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    These are really lovely! In a way, they actually seem to represent the astronomical objects better than photographs, as they are filtered through a human imagination.

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