Early Nineteenth Century English Horticulture

by Jutta Buck

with Cynthia Rice

No history of botanical art would be complete without mention of The Botanical Magazine, founded in 1787 by William Curtis (1746-1799), and continuously published to this day. William Curtis was the director of the publication until his death when he was succeeded by John Sims (1749-1831) until 1826. Then William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) became manager and draftsman until 1865. Joseph Dalton Hooker assumed his father's place as director until 1904. Among the various draftsmen, who contributed to this timeless and beautiful publication, were the talented artists William Kilburn (1745-1818), James Sowerby (1757-1822), Sydenham Edwards (c.1769-1819), William Jackson Hooker, and Walter Hood Fitch (1834-1877), the most productive English botanical artist of the nineteenth century. Not only did Fitch, throughout his tenure, produce all the illustrations for The Botanical Magazine, but he found time to contribute to Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker’s The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya (1849-1851), by creating lithographs of Hooker’s field sketches. Another equally superb example of Fitch’s art are the lithographs from his own drawings which illustrate A Monograph of the Genus Lilium, published by Henry John Elwes (1846-1922) and released from 1877 to 1880.

(L) Rose camellia (Camellia japonica) from Curtis Botanical Magazine, London 1786-1787. Artist, William Curtis. Hand-colored copper engraving

(R) Blue Bindweed (Convolvulus mauritanicus) from Curtis Botanical Magazine, London 1786. Artist, James Sowerby. Hand-colored copper engraving




















Zebra flowered Arum (Arum triphyllum zebrinum) from Curtis Botanical Magazine,  London 1806. Artist, Sydenham Edwards. Hand-colored copper engraving

Lithography is a process of drawing upon a slab of prepared limestone with greasy ink or crayon, which is then moistened with water, after which a roller moves greasy ink over the stone. As the greasy ink adheres only to the similarly greasy drawing, it leaves no trace on the rest of the wet stone surface. With the paper laid on the stone, both stone and paper are passed through a press.

Many floricultural periodicals and manuals were produced throughout the nineteenth century in England and elsewhere, illustrated with lithographs based on original drawings. Prime examples were Sydenham Edwards’ and John Lindley’s Botanical Register (1815-1847), Robert Sweet’s British Flower Garden (1823-1838), and Benjamin Maund’s Botanic Garden (1825-1851), the latter included illustrations by Maund’s niece, Sarah Maund, and Mrs. Augusta Withers (c. 1818-1864). Other illustrations were contributed by Mrs. Withers and by Miss Drake (c. 1818-1847) to the Transactions of the Horticultural Society (1805-1848). Little is known about the private lives of these female artists. They contributed to many works, including James Bateman’s (1811-1897) The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, which was published from 1837 to 1843, and embellished with beautiful lithographs by M. Gauchi after the drawings of Mrs. Withers and Miss Drake. Another lovely work illustrated with early lithographs was A Selection of Flowers by Valentine Bartholomew (1799-1889), published in London in 1822.
















Dahlia from A Selection of Flowers, Rodwell & Martin, J.Dickinson, London 1821-1822. Artist, Valentine Bartholomew. Hand-colored lithograph

The Pomona Britannica by George Brookshaw (1751-1823), published in London by the author in 1812, illustrates fruits cultivated in the Royal Gardens at Hampton Court and others in the vicinity of London. Brookshaw was also responsible for all the drawings in this work of some ninety plates portraying the most popular fruits of the period. The aquatint plates with some stipple engraving were printed in color and finished by hand, while most, but not all of these images were set against a dark brown background.

Frankendale grape from Pomona Britannica, George Brookshaw, London 1804-1812. Artist, George Brookshaw. Aquatint

One of the most celebrated flower books of all time is The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton (c. 1768-1837), published in London from 1799-1807. Thornton spared no labor or money in the production of this splendid folio of flower portraits set against backdrops of their natural habitat. Each atlas folio, an oversized volume, may contain between twenty-eight and thirty-two plates, since Thornton assembled them individually. The artists who contributed their paintings were Peter Henderson (1791-1829), Philip Reinagle (1749-1833), Abraham Pether (1756-1812) and Sydenham Edwards, with Dr. Thornton painting the roses. The plates are variously printed in color and finished by hand either in aquatint, stipple and line, mezzotint and line, or mezzotint.


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  • Lance-leaved Lily (Lilium spaciosum) from A Monograph of the Genus Lilium, Henry John Elwes, London 1877-1880. Artist, Walter Hood Fitch. Lithograph colored by hand
  • Rhododendrum aucklandi from The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya, Joseph Dalton Hooker. Reeve, London 1849-1851. Artist, William Jackson Hooker. Lithograph colored by hand.
  • Galeandra devoniana by Miss Drake. Watercolor on paper
  • Tulips, Robert Thornton, London 1799-1807. Artist, Philip Reinagle. Mezzotint, printed in color and finished by hand
  • Night Blooming Cereus from The Temple of Flora, Robert Thornton, London 1799-1807. Artist, Philip Reinagle, background of the painting by Abraham Pether. Mezzotint, printed in color and finished by hand