Claudio Gay was born in Provence,
in 1800. In childhood he developed a deep fascination with the natural
sciences. In his youth, he traveled extensively in parts of Europe under
direction of the Italian botanist Juan Bautista Balbis, visiting the
Alps, northern Italy, Greece, Asia Minor,
and several Mediterranean islands. In 1828 the adventurer Pedro Chapuis
him to come to Chile
to teach geography. Gay accepted the offer, and lived in Chile until
1842, working as a teacher and participating in scientific expeditions.
contract with the Chilean government, he embarked on a 3 1/2-year
build a registry of the country’s natural resources. Later he agreed to
political history of Chile.
The success of this work, which he completed in 1841, earned him
citizenship. Returning to France,
Gay published the first volume of his Atlas de la historia fisica y
in 1842. By 1871, this monumental work had grown to 30 volumes, covering
history (eight volumes), botany (eight volumes), zoology (eight
agriculture (two volumes), historic documents (two volumes), and two
maps and illustrations. Gay’s work earned him fame as a versatile
a talented artist whose etchings captured images of native Indians,
popular characters, and previously unknown botanical species.