Turpin, Pierre Jean François
TURPIN, PIERRE JEAN FRANçOIS
(b. Vire, France, 11 March 1775; d. Paris, France, 1 May 1840)
Turpin was the son of an impoverished artisan. He studied drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts in Vire, then, in 1780, enlisted as a soldier in the Calvados battalion. In 1794 he was sent to Haiti, where he met Alexandre Poiteau, a gardener at the Paris Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, who taught him botany. Turpin and Poiteau collaborated in a study of Haitian flora; they collected an herbarium of some 1,200 plants, of which Turpin made drawings of a large number, and of which they together described about 800 species. They took this material to France, but Turpin soon returned to make a further exploration of Hispaniola and of the island of Tortuga, which lies off its northwest coast. In 1800 he made a trip to the United States, where he met Humboldt, but returned again to Haiti to serve as an army pharmacist in the campaign against Toussaint-L’Ouverture that was being conducted by General Leclerc. In 1802 Turpin settled in France to devote himself to botany and botanical illustration.
As a botanical artist Turpin achieved a fame equal to that of Redouté. He collaborated on a number of the most important botanical publications of the early nineteenth century, including Humboldt’s Plantae aequinoctiales. . . in ordem digessit Amatus Bonpland, Benjamin Delessert’s Icones selectae plantarum pr. part., and J. L. M. Poiret’s Leçons de flore, to which he contributed fifty-seven plates. He also made a number of drawings for the less distinguished Flore du dictionnaire des sciences médicales of F. P. Chaumeton, Chambéret, and Poiret. He himself composed a flora of Paris, then collaborated on another with Poiteau, who had also published a previous work on the same subject. Only the first eight parts of their joint work was printed, as Flore parisienne contenant la description des plantes qui croissent naturellement aux environs de Paris (1808-1813). Poiteau and Turpin also collaborated on a new, admirably illustrated edition of Duhamel du Monceau’s Traité des arbres fruitiers of 1768; this work, which was important for distinguishing botanical species from the races or varieties known to gardeners, had lacked good drawings. In the new recension, published in 1808-1835, the work became one of the most beautiful books on fruit trees ever published.
Turpin’s own botanical research reflected the broad scientific concerns of his time. A systematist by temperament, he believed in the great chain of being and in the continuity of forms and organs. He thus sought an archetypal model to explain the constitution of plants, and was particularly impressed by Goethe’s notion of the leaf as the archetypal organ of the plant. (Charles GaudichaudBeaupré had proposed that this fundamental organ be called the “phyton,” because it was formed by both the leaf–the phyllome–and the base that forms part of the stem, the phyllopodium.)
Turpin defended the idea of organ types in a number of works, including “Mémoire sur l’inflorescence des Graminées et des Cypéracées” (1819), “Organographie végétale” (1827), Mémoire sur l’organisation intérieure et extérieure des tubercules du Solanum tuberosum (1828), “Mémoire de nosologie végétale” (1833), and “Observation générales sur l’organogénie et la physiologie des végétaux” (1835). His Examend’une chloranthie ou monstruosité observée sur l’inflorescence du saule marceau of 1833 is a related teratological study. In 1837 Turpin presented to the Académie des Sciences a drawing, executed in 1804, of the plant type that he had first conceived in Haiti. He intended this to illustrate the unity of organic composition and the original identity of all the foliaceous and lateral appendicular organs of the plant; the engraving was one of several published in C.-F. Martin’s edition of the Oeuvres d’histoire naturelle de Goethe (1837). Goethe himself had, shortly before his death, asked Turpin to illustrate the theory that he had presented in his Versuch die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zur erklaeren of 1790.
Turpin also participated in the elaboration of the cell theory. His writings on the subject, published in 1820, were largely influenced by Sprengel’s idea that the “utricle” (cell) contained vesicles and granules, including the chlorophyll granules that played an active part in cellular development. From Sprengel, too, Turpin derived the notion of the plant as an aggregate of independent, completely individualized cells. Turpin did further research on the lower plants, and made a number of contributions to the systematics of freshwater algae. In addition, he was one of the first to confirm the conclusion of C. Cagniard de la Tour and T. Schwann that yeast is a living organism that reproduces by budding.
Turpin’s writings include Flore parisienne contenant la description des plantes qui croissent naturellement aux environs de Paris, 8 pts. (Paris, 1808–1813), written with A. Poiteau; “Mémoire sur l’inflorescence des Graminées et des Cyperacées,” in Memoires du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 5 (1819), 426–492; “Organographie,” ibid., 14 (1827); Mémoire sur l’organisation intérieure et extérieure des tubercules du Solanum tuberosum (Paris, 1828); Examen d’une chloranthie ou monstruosité observée sur l’inflorescence du saule marceau (Paris, 1833); “Mémoire de nosologie végétale,” in Mémoires présentés par divers savants, 6 (1835), 217–240; and “Observations générales sur l’organogénie et la physiologie des végétaux,” in Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences, 2nd ser., 14 (1835). He also collaborated with Poiteau on a new ed. of Duhamel du Monceau’s Traité des arbres fruitiers, 6 vols. (Paris, 1808–1835).
In addition, Turpin contributed to Humboldt’s Plantae aequinoctiales . . . in ordinem digessit Amatus Bonplmtd, 2 vols. (Paris, 1805–1818); F. P. Chaumeton, Chambéret, and J .L. M. Poiret’s Flore ... médicale, 8 vols. (Paris, 1814–1820); Poiret’s Leçons de flore, 3 vols. (Paris, 1819–1820); and Benjamin Delessert’s Icones selectae plantarum pr. part. (Paris, 1820–1823).
Twenty-five artistic items by Turpin are now in the Lindley Library.