Six framed Buffon prints—including a camel, elephant, wolf, tiger, bear, and bison—serve as a reminder of James Madison’s continued interest in natural history and scientific experimentation. In 1786, Madison wrote Thomas Jefferson, then serving in France, about the likelihood of purchasing a set of framed colorful engravings by French naturalist Comte de Buffon, “I have thought that the cuts of the Quadrupeds in Buffon, if arranged in frames, would make both an agreeable & instructive piece of wall furniture. What would be the Cost of them in such a form? I suppose they are not to be had, coloured to the life, and would besides be too costly. What is the price of Buffon’s birds coloured?” Jefferson responded soon after that he would procure the readily available prints for Madison in Paris.
Years later, friend and founder of the Philadelphia Museum, Charles Willson Peale reminded Madison of his earlier interest, “I remember in an early stage of the Museum, your obliging recommendation to my attention of the works of Buffon; and since I have been obliged to gain a more critical knowledge of Natural history, his writings have been of infinite use to me—his Plates, especially have enabled me to Identify many of the subjects of the Museum...”