Circle of Georg Dionysius Ehret
by Jutta Buck
with Cynthia Rice
Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) was one of the most important botanical artists of the 18th century. Born in Heidelberg, he spent some of his early years traveling through Europe before settling in England. During his travels, Ehret met many prominent personalities. While in Regensburg illustrating Johann W. Weinmann’s Phytanthoza Iconographia, he met Dr. Christoph Jakob Trew (1695-1769), a wealthy physician from Nuremberg, who became a lifelong friend, benefactor and publisher of most of Ehret’s work, including the famous Plantae Selectae (1750-1773). Still another well-known work, which ran into several volumes, and to which Ehret contributed, was Trew’s Hortus Nitidissimus (1750-1786). Subsequently, when in Paris, Ehret stayed with Bernard de Jussieu (1699-c. 1777), brother of Antoine and also an eminent botanist. In Holland he was to befriend Carolus Linnaeus. Later in England, Ehret’s acquaintances included Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) founder of the British Museum, and Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), famed British naturalist and companion of Captain James Cook on his voyages around the world. Banks was one of the founders of Kew Gardens. Ehret also received the patronage of the Duchess of Portland, a well- known supporter of botanists, who commissioned many paintings from him.
Ehret’s paintings were mainly executed with body color on vellum. Happily, much of his work is preserved in institutions such as the Victoria and Albert in London, as well as private collections.
After the death of Ehret, two Austrian born brothers, Francis Bauer (1758-1840) and Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826) attracted Sir Joseph Banks' attention. Ferdinand had been invited to England by John Sibthorp (1758-1796) whom he had met in Vienna and who subsequently invited him on a voyage to document the plants of the Levant. This trip led to the publication of the impressive Flora Graeca, (1806-1830), after Sibthorp’s death. The work was illustrated with copper engravings by James Sowerby (1757-1822) after drawings by Ferdinand Bauer. Later, when Ferdinand was asked by Matthew Flinders to accompany him on his voyage to Australia in 1800 as his botanical artist, Ferdinand accepted. Some drawings made by Ferdinand Bauer on this journey are illustrated in Illustrationes florae Novae Hollandiae, Robert Brown, London 1806-1813.
Following his brother to London, Francis Bauer was introduced to Sir Joseph Banks who had been seeking a permanent draughtsman for the Royal Gardens at Kew, of which he was the Director. Francis accepted the position in 1790 and remained until his death in 1840. Some experts consider both Francis and Ferdinand Bauer to be unequalled in the scientific and artistic excellence of their botanical drawings.
Strelitzia reginae Aiton by Francis Bauer. Lithograph colored by hand