Saturday, 23 July 2022

Jeanne Baret. Bougainvillea flower & journey around the world. Inessa Kraft's photo project.

I want to share with you one of the most incredible stories - a story about the stunning flowers Bougainvillea and the first woman who traveled around the world. 

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea


In 1766, French Navy admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville was commissioned by the King to sail around the world in the First French circumnavigation. The expedition was accompanied by a brilliant internationally renowned scientist-botanist - Philibert Commerçon and his assistant and co-researcher - Jeanne Baret. When Commerçon was unable to collect specimens around Rio de Janeiro due to an old leg injury, it was Jeanne Baret, who went to explore the area and brought back aboard an exotic magenta-flowered vine of the plant that is known today as Bougainvillea.


Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea


Commerçon and Baret were both exceptional botanists, partners in life and work. The king himself invited Commerçon to join the scientific expedition as chief naturalist. But at that time, women were strictly prohibited on French navy ships, and 26-year-old Jeanne Baret joined the trip disguised as a man. Jeanne acted as Commerçon’s assistant, Jean Baret, in order to travel the world. She assisted the beloved one, because of his poor health, kept papers organized, and was collecting plants during the expedition. 


Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea





How did their paths cross with Jeanne Baret, being a peasant, and Commerçon, an aristocrat and outstanding scholar? The answer is that while he was learning from the books - she was learning from oral traditions and nature herself, knowing medieval secrets and medicinal properties of plants. She was a highly intelligent “herb woman” and was not only his student, but also his teacher. They shared passion to plants and botany, and later became romantic partners.

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

Jeanne's time onboard and during the trips inland to gather plants wasn't easy. She repeatedly showed strength and stamina, frequently carrying heavy boxes with papers and plant samples.


Jeanne Baret, Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

Her true identity was revealed on Tahiti. Local men surrounded Baret. Despite her male’s clothes, they easily identified Jeanne as a woman and were very excited to get to know her closer, so she cried for help. 
By the time she was discovered, Jeanne Baret had already catalogued thousands of specimens of plants, shells, and even rocks new to French science. Together with Commerçon they created the largest natural history collection known at the time. Thousands of plant specimens can still be found in the herbarium of the Paris natural history museum. 

Jeanne Baret, Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea


Bougainvellia flower was discovered during this trip. But it was not Admiral Bougainville  wandering inland searching for plant specimens. Commerçon probably also didn’t explore much ashore, as he had limited mobility, suffering from a leg injury. So, it was Jeanne who was responsible for collecting most of the South American plants, over a thousand of which are still found in herbariums today. 


A girl passionate about plants, from a social class that would rarely travel further than their village, hiding her identity to follow her love and passion - there is hardly any doubt that it was her who discovered and appreciated Bougainvillea. 


I wonder how she felt standing there in front of the magnificent magenta bush, meeting it for the first time ever, seeing what no one has ever seen?  

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea


The actual Bougainvellia flower is small and white. Each cluster of three flowers is surrounded by three magenta-colored bracts. Bracts are not flowers, but leaves of a plant, that are colored brightly to attract pollinators. Philibert Commerçon was the first European to describe the Bougainvillea plant - and there are disputes about whose accomplishment is this amazing discovery? Was it Philibert, the expedition’s naturalist, or his companion, Baret, who made the discovery? For me, Commerçon and Baret are inseparable, like Bougainvillea’s white, almost invisible flowers and stunning magenta leaves. One completes the other, and one would be completely different without the other. 

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea


Admiral Bougainville admired her courage and effort and wrote about Jeanne in his journal “…she well knew when we embarked that we were going round the world, and that such a voyage had raised her curiosity. She will be the first woman that ever made it, and I must do her the justice to affirm that she has always behaved on board with the most scrupulous modesty. She is neither ugly nor pretty, and is not yet twenty-five.” 


Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

Being an invisible hero, as invisible as tiny flowers of Bougainvellia, did she know - that it was all worth it? That she was as exceptional and grand as the magenta cloud… Jeanne Baret stayed in history as the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. While her heritage - stunning Bougainvellia, symbolizing passion and beauty - fascinates people in different parts of the world.


Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea


I wanted to show her being strong, but not sad. Thoughtful and adventurous. Lonely, but peaceful. I'm thankful to the nature of Cyprus that allowed me to find different beautiful locations that Jeanne could see during her journey. 

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

Jeanne Baret, Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

When in 1767 their ship arrived to French Mauritius Commerçon and Jeanne decided to stay there. They continued their scientific research and even made several trips to Madagascar to collect plants. They were inseparably together until being poor in health Commerçon passed away in 1773 from an infection. At that time Jeanne was a wealthy woman running her own profitable Tavern. About a year after, in 1774 Jeanne married a French Army officer Jean Dubernat and in 1775 they left back to France, officially completing Jeanne’s circumnavigation. A decade after her return, at the personal request of Bougainville, who considered her an “extraordinary woman” the Ministry of Marine granted Jeanne a life long pension of 200 livres per year.

“Jeanne Baret, by means of a disguise, circumnavigated the globe… She devoted herself in particular to assisting Mr de Commerçon, doctor and botanist, and shared with great courage the labours and dangers of this savant.” — French government, 1785

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea


Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

Jeanne Baret by Inessa Kraft, Bougainvillea

Jeanne Baret lived a long adventurous life. Her birthday was on July 27, 1740. 





More is coming
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