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The Art of Botanical Illustration
Scientific Botany

Magazine of Botany

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) , the Swedish botanist and explorer revolutionized botany and its illustration. His works, culminating in his Species plantarum of 1753 established a new system for organizing and naming plants. The Linnaean system arranged the plant world by a classification system based on the sexual parts of the flower. The characteristics of the flower defined the genus; this was supplemented by other aspects of morphology, such as leaves, to determine the species. The system also standardized the part name, genus and species. This system simplified the scientific dialog about the thousands of new plants being discovered around the world.

The Linnaean system also changed botanical illustration. The focus of the illustrations shifted from the whole plant to the flower alone or the flower and fruit. It reduced the amount of information that it was felt was necessary to include in a botanical drawing. The flower was more likely now to be shown close up with each stamen and pistil distinct. This contrasts sharply with the early works attention to the plant as a whole, showing roots, stems, and seeds.


John Hill, 1714?-1775.
Eden, or, A compleat body of gardening: containing plain and familiar directions for the raising the several useful products of a garden, fruits, roots, and herbage... London, Printed for T. Osborne..., 1757.

Botany was only one interest of John Hill, who worked as an actor and pharmacist and wrote numerous novels, plays, and books on theology and naval history. Hill is famous for introducing the Linnean system of botanical nomenclature to England. Eden is arranged as a calendar to guide the gardener week by week in the care of the garden. The illustrations for Eden were primarily copied from earlier works including Hortus Floridus and Paradisi in sole.

William Curtis (1746-1799)
Flora Londinensis... London: Printed for and sold by the author, 1777-98

Trained as a pharmacist, William Curtis was Director of Gardens at the Chelsea garden of the Society of Apothecaries. In 1777, Curtis published the first part of Flora Londinensis which was intended to show all of the plants growing in a ten-mile radius of London. The project took ten years and was not financially successful. Among the artists Curtis worked with were William Kilburn, James Sowerby, and Sydenham Teast Williams. Sowerby and Williams became major artists in the botanical field; Sowerby as author of English Botany and Williams as one of the major contributors to the Botanical Magazine.


Charles Louis L'Heritier de Brutelle, 1746-1800.
Stirpes, novae, aut minus cognitae, quas descriptionbus et iconibus. Parisiis, ex typographia Philippi-Dionysii Pierres, 1784-85.

This is the first major book to which Redouté contributed illustrations. L'Heritier, a wealthy amateur botanist, gave the twenty-five year old artist his first commission and taught him the techniques of dissection and the details of plant anatomy. The plates show some of the stylistic elements Redouté would continue to use, such as having the flowers continue outside of the page border and using shadows to create a three-dimentional effect.

Pomona Britannica

George Brookshaw.
Pomona Britannica; or, A collection of the most esteemed fruits at present cultivated in Great Britain. London: Printed by Bensley and son for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1817.

Pomona Britannica is considered to be the finest work of its kind, containing two hundred and fifty-six kinds of fruit. The work, which took ten years to complete, originally cost almost six pounds, a huge sum in 1817.


Les Roses

Pierre-Joseph Redouté.
Les Roses. Paris: C. L. F. Panckoucke, 1824.

Pierre Joseph Redouté, considered by many to be history's greatest botanical illustrator, was trained as a painter by his father and schooled in the great Dutch flower painting tradition. He studied botany at the Paris Museum of Natural History, where his talent was soon discovered by one of his professors, L'Héritier de Brutelle, who employed the young Redouté to work on illustrations for his own books. Other patrons soon discovered Redouté's talents, including Queen Marie Antoinette and the Empress Josephine.

Produced for his patron the Empress Josephine, Les Roses includes many of the roses from Malmaison, Josephine's residence in Paris. The plates are produced by stipple engraving, a pointillist technique, in which images are conveyed by a series of etched dots and the open space between them, rather than by a series of lines. Redouté claimed to have invented the process of using stipple engraving to print multiple colors on a single plate in 1796 - a claim which was upheld in the French courts and earned him a medal from King Louis XVIII. The technique allowed Redouté to achieve a subtlety of color and shading almost equal to those in his original paintings. Gift of Richard S. Hutton.

The British Flower Garden

Robert Sweet, 1783-1835.
The British Flower Garden : containing coloured figures & descriptions of the most ornamental & curious hardy herbaceous plants ... by Robert Sweet ; the drawings by E.D. Smith. London: Published for the author by W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1823-1829.

Robert Sweet was a horticulturalist, who worked at several English plant nurseries and produced several botanical books. He became notorious, however, when he was charged with receiving a box of plants stolen from the royal gardens at Kew. He was acquitted after a well-publicized trial.

Fruits of America C. M. Hovey, 1810-1887.
The Fruits of America: containing richly colored figures, and full descriptions of all the choicest varieties cultivated in the United States. Boston, C.C. Little & J. Brown, and Hovey, 1851-1856.

Charles Hovey was a nurseryman and seed merchant as well as a successful journalist. He was born and lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Early he began to collect and exhibit many cultivars of pear, apple, plum, and grape. He was also interested in florist and ornamental plants, particularly the Camellia and Chrysanthemum. These were exhibited at the shows of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. He developed the Hovey strawberry which first fruited in 1836 and which has been considered as the starting point of American strawberry production. It was the standard cultivar for many years.

Ladies Botany John Lindley, 1799-1865.
Ladies' Botany; or, A familiar introduction to the study of the natural system of botany.. London: H. G. Bohn, 1865.

Lindley was a famous botanist and horticulturist and became Professor of Botany in University College, London. He also became Assistant Librarian to Sir Joseph Banks, who was also a famous botanist of the 19th Century. He organized the first successful flower show of the Royal Horticultural Society in London in the late 1830's.


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