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SOUTH & SOUTHEAST ASIA: Carte du Theatre de la Guerre dans l‘Inde ou se trouvent une Partie de La Chine, Les Iles de Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Moluques et Philippines. Dressée d‘après les Meilleures Cartes tant Françaises qu’Anglaises par L. Denis, Géogr


A Scarce and unusually attractive separately issued map of South and Southeast Asia, picturing the region extending from India though Malaya to Southern China and the Philippines during a geopolitical turning point, as Britain faced and alliance of France and the Netherlands in an epic contest for maritime dominance in Asia; created by the boutique mapmaker Louis Denis and published in Paris by André Basset.

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Copper-engraving with original outline wash colour (Wear and some very minor loss along old folds, elsewhere some areas of paper thinness and small holes; trimmed to neatline on 3 sides; map recently mounted upon a larger sheet of acid-free paper for stability), map: 51.5 x 76 cm (20.5 x 30 inches); mounting: 57 x 81 cm (22.5 x 32 inches).


This separately issued work is one of the most elegant of all Enlightenment Era maps of South and Southeast Asia.  It was designed by the boutique cartographer Louis Denis, engraved by the masterfully talented Louis Belanger, and printed by André Basset in Paris, in 1782, when France and her allies (notably including the Netherlands) were engaged in an epic struggle against Britain for colonial domination of these regions and the surrounding seas; being an outgrowth of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83).  While the conflict was technically ended in a draw, Britain succeeded in permanently damaging French and Dutch power in Asia, allowing it to become the dominant colonial power in the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region in the succeeding decades.

The map captures a grand scope that covers the Indian Subcontinent from Delhi southwards, sweeping east and south to capture all of Indochina and the Malay Peninsula; Indonesia; the Philippines and Southern China.  All major locations are carefully and clearly labelled in a manner that was ideal for following the progress of military events as they were reported in Parisian newspapers.

The map is augmented by the lovely original pastel hues that were the signature of André Basset’s workshop.

The finely engraved cartouche in the lower left corner features Chinoiserie motifs, tropical foliage and fine Asiatic wares.  Below the title is the dedication to Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir (1732 – 1807), a reformer who served as the Chief of Police of Paris from 1774 to 1785, whose coast of arms appears immediately to the left.

The map was separately issued to satisfy the great curiosity that the on-going war in Asia had sparked in salons across France.  Basset published the map in two editions, the first is dated ‘1781’ in the cartouche; while the second is dated ‘1782’.  The present example is of the second edition.  Other than the change in date, we have not been able to discern any differences between these two editions.  A third, and final, edition, using the same plate, was published in 1792 by J.C. Chaumier.  All editions are today rare, consistent with the low survival rate of such separately issued large format maps of the era.


The Wars of the Early 1780s in South Asia: A Geopolitical Turning Point

Today many people overlook the fact the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

dovetailed into a global conflict that had an enduring legacy that far transcended what is today he United States.  Both the West Indies and South Asia were major theatres of conflict between Britain and France, and their respective allies and proxies.  In many respects these theatres were considered far more consequential to London and Paris than the events that occurred in and around the Thirteen Colonies.  Moreover, unlike the picture in North America, the British ended up gaining the upper hand in the West Indies and Asia.

The conflict manifested itself in India as the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-4).  France, which had been at war with Britain since 1778, wishing to avenge her defeat during the Seven Years’ War (which dovetailed into the Third Carnatic War in India), encouraged Hyder Ali, the ruler of the Sultanate of Mysore, to declare war on Britain.  France forged an alliance with Hyder, a union that was soon joined by the Dutch VOC (instigating the Anglo-Dutch War, 1780-4),

Britain had far more to lose financially in India than it did in the Thirteen Colonies, so it took the conflict seriously.  It forged a regional alliance with the Nawab of the Carnati, Muhammad Ali Khan Walla Jah, an old enemy of Hyder.

The British struck first, on August 21, 1778 a large Anglo-Carnatic force of over 10,000 troops descended upon Pondicherry, the capital of French India.  The lightly garrisoned city held out for almost two months but surrendered on October 19.  Next, in March 1779, the British seized the French post of Mahé on the Malabar Coast.

In 1780 Hyder Ali and his son, the Tipu Sultan, mounted a massive invasion of the Carnatic.  Their juggernaut comprising over 80,000 troops ravaged the countryside and overwhelmed the forces of the British and the Nawab.

Meanwhile, in November 1780, the British managed to capture Negapatnam, the capital of the Dutch Coromandel.  However, in April 1782, the French, assisted by their Mysorean allies, took the important British fortress of Cuddalore.  As Pondicherry was in British hands, Cuddalore became the de facto capital of French India.

In the spring of 1783, the British dispatched as sizable army under General James Stuart, consisting of over 11,000 troops, to regain Cuddalore.  However, after facing surprisingly strong resistance, they were forced to retreat.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy, supported by British privateers ravaged the Dutch naval and merchant shipping in various locations all over the globe, causing severe damage to the Netherlands’ ability to uphold it maritime commercial system.

While the contest of Britain vs. France and the Netherlands in Asia technically resulted in a draw, the British manged to permanently wound French and Dutch naval strength.  In this regard, the conflicts of the early 1780s marked a turning point in geopolitics that saw the rise of Britain as the dominant colonial power in both South and Southeast Asia.

Britain felt emboldened to expand its footprint, founding Georgetown (Penang, Malaysia) in 1786.  It soon managed to nearly drive the French out of India during the 1790s, while the Royal Navy progressively became the utterly dominant naval power in the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, Britain fought a series of difficult wars against their Indian enemies, but eventually assumed dominance over all Peninsular India in 1818, upon vanquishing their last major antagonist, the Maratha Confederacy.

The founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, marked the beginning of British supremacy in the Southeast Asia, at the expense of the Netherlands.  These major shifts all began in the time and places depicted upon the present map.


Louis Denis: Boutique Paris Mapmaker during the Age of the Enlightenment

Louis Denis (1725 – 1794) was a highly talented, ‘boutique mapmaker’, based in Paris during the Age of the Enlightenment.  In 1758, he became an associate of the prominent Paris mapmaker Louis-Charles Desnos.  He first rose to prominence in 1760, when he was appointed as the geography tutor to the royal court a Versailles, notably being the teacher for the Duc de Berry, the future King Louis XVI.  Denis’s first major work was an atlas of the global missions of the Jesuit Order (made shortly before its suppression), Atlas Geographique Renfermant les Etablissemens des Jesuites (1764).  He gained great acclaim as the designer and engraver of the magnificent Le Conducteur français (Paris, 52 parts, 1776-81), the finest road atlas of France ever made up to the time.  Denis also designed and engraved several maps of Paris between 1758 and 1781.

Denis’s most beautiful works were his several separately-issued maps of the various global theatres of the American Revolutionary War, all published between 1779 and 1782 by the Paris art printer, André Basset, all bearing the imprint ‘A Paris chés Basset rüe St. Jacques au coin de celle des Mathurins à l’image S.te Genevieve’.  This uncommonly beautiful series of maps were all designed by Denis and engraved in a vibrant, yet elegant, style by Louis Belanger (1736 – 1816), who is best known for his topographical views.  In addition to the present map of South and Southeast Asia, Denis’s Revolutionary War maps included: his map of the North Atlantic theatres, Nouvelle Carte de l’Ocean Atlantique et Theatre de la Guerre tant en Europe qu’en Amerique (1782); his map of the American Thirteen Colonies, Carte Du Theatre De La Guerre Presente En Amerique dressee d’apres les Nouvelles Cartes Anglais (1779, second edition with added inset of Yorktown, 1782); his map of the West Indies and Florida theatre, Carte du Golphe du Mexique Dressée d’après celles qui ont été publiées par ordre des cours de France, d’Espagne, et d’Angleterre (1780); his map of the English Channel, Carte de la Manche dressée d’après les originaux tirés de France et d’Angleterre (1780); his map of the Eastern Mediterranean theatre, Carte réduite de la partie occidentale de la Mer Méditerranée (1780); his map of Minorca, Nouvelle Carte de l’ile Minorque, avec les plans du Port-Mahon et du fort St-Philippe (1781); his map of the theatre of the Great Siege of Gibraltar, Carte de la Baie et du Détroit de Gibraltar où se fait la communication de la mer Méditerranée avec l’Océan (1782); and finally his map of Southeast Asia, Carte du Theatre de la Guerre dans l’Inde ou se Trouvent une Partie de la Chine, les Isles Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Moluques et Philippines (1782).  Most of these maps were dedicated to Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, and they were all separately issued issued in seemingly very limited print runs, as boutique items, as opposed to mass-productions.  The plates used for these maps were subsequently acquired by the Paris publisher J.C. Chaumier, who issued second states of the maps in 1792 (including of the present map), with these issues being likewise rare.

Late in his career, Denis published an updated edition of Nicolas Sanson’s map of Southeastern Europe, Le Royaume de Hongrie etla Turquie en Europe (1788); as well as revised edition of Jean-Baptiste Nolin’s world map, Mappe-Monde Carte Universelle De La Terre (1782), his map of the Americas, Amérique ou Nouveau Continent (1781) and his map of France, Carte de France (1782).


References: [Re: Present 1782 Edition:] OCLC: 71602288; David E. PARRY, The Cartography of the East Indian Islands: Insulae Indiae Orientalis (2005), p. 241.

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