the great cartographic project of his life’

By FLEURIEU, Charles Pierre Carlet, 1809 

Neptune du Cattegat et de la Baltique Recueil.

  • Author: FLEURIEU, Charles Pierre Carlet
  • Publication place: Paris
  • Publication date: 1809.
  • Physical description: Folio (670 by 550mm) with 66 engraved plates, 45 double-page, two folding, damp staining to lower covers, tear to lower spine, with some browning to outer margins, slight spotting and damp staining, water staining to plate 18, small trace of glue to lower margin to plate 13 water staining, some thumbing and old library stamp to title, small marginal restoration, bound in contemporary red half morocco.
  • Inventory reference: 18462


Charles Pierre Carlet de Fleurieu (1738–1810), naval officer, explorer, hydrographer, and minister of the navy under Louis XVI, began his great cartographic work, the Neptune du Cattegat’, in 1785, a project that would consume him for the rest of his life. The catalyst for the project was the publication by Nicolas-Gabriel Le Clerc of two maps of the Baltic Sea. These charts so incensed Fleurieu with their inaccuracies that he vowed to produce a far superior work.

Fleurieu argued that it was essential for France’s economy and security to have accurate charts of the Baltic. In August of 1785, he employed the services of the young Charles-Francois Beautemps-Beaupre to work on the atlas, who would later become one of the greatest hydrographers of his generation. Fleurieu envisaged a three part work: an atlas of charts (the present work), printed nautical instructions, and a never completed military, political, and commercial history of the Baltic. Fleurieu began by collecting as many charts both manuscript and printed of the area.

In 1794, he published the Fondemens des cartes du Cattergat et de la Baltique’, in which he set out the precise astronomical and geodetic principals, together with the numerous sources, that would form the basis of the work. Beautemps-Beaupre (who had joined d’Entrecasteaux on his voyage to find La Perouse in 1791) had by then managed to engrave 16 unfinished plans and 43 finished maps. Unfortunately when Beautemps-Beaupre arrived back from the voyage in 1796, he informed Fleurieu that he could no longer continue with the project as the methods he had developed with d’Entrecasteaux had made much of the work obsolete. Fleurieu was, however, unperturbed and vowed to continue with the work.

Alas, Fleurieu died of a massive brain haemorrhage in 1810, and would never see the work’s publication, which was eventually printed by his former assistant Beautemps-Beaupre in the same year. Beautemps was well aware that the work had, by this time, become obsolete and resolved to print only 30 examples as an act of homage to his former friend and teacher, rather than as a commercial venture. This would also explain why so many of the plates, including the title, remain unfinished, with many of the inset plans and cartouches blank. After printing, the plates, apart from the plan of St Petersburg, were destroyed.

Although Fleurieu’s work would eventually be seen as an expensive failure — 177,325 francs were spent on the plates alone — it not only proved a great education for Beautemps-Beaupre and for the other engravers who worked on the project, but also instilled a rigour and accuracy that would continue to be a hallmark of French hydrography thoughout the nineteenth century.

We are only able to trace eight institutional examples; only two of which are housed outside France: the British Library, and the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen. The example in the BNF is unbound, and it has been suggested that the majority were never bound into a atlas, although we have been unable to verify this with the known extant examples. The work has appeared only twice at auction since the Second World War. 

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