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19th Century English and American Botany

Dear Friends:

The Academy of Botanical Art holds it main focus to the botanical art of the French Court period between the 16th and 19th Centuries.  That is, however, to say that we are also influenced by other great contributions to this field of study and art.  The age of natural history exploration was influenced not only by the French, but of course the English, the Americans, and many other countries as well.  Many studied, grew, illustrated, and wrote about flora and fauna for more than just political or personal reasons. In the following two excerpts regarding 19th Century English Botany and 19th Century American Botany in Print, we are given good insight into the evolution of botanical art and illustrated botanical art for purposes which seem to support what John Locke wrote in Concerning Human Understanding – a philosophical essay which helped man’s perception of nature and the importance of beauty as well as function.

Excerpt from

19th Century English Botany

The Art of Botanical Illustration Explained

By Graham Arader

Arader Gallery, New York 2003

 The art of botanical illustration is, by necessity, linked to the development of natural history and the quest for knowledge of the world around us. Without the latter the former would not exist and thus, throughout the centuries, both have been influenced by the same social and economic factors.  During the seventeenth century, a new philosophy developed and was most ably advanced by John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding.  He defended the principle of rational enquiry placing great value upon the study of nature.  Moreover, Locke furthered the practical doctrine that man’s purpose lay in “a careful and constant pursuit of happiness.” His writings were to influence a new era of scientific discovery and consequently generated the growth of botanical illustration as an art form.  World exploration became a facet of botany, but scientists not only looked for plants with medicinal properties but also studied flowers for their innate beauty.

While the term ‘florist’ is more generally used in reference to someone employed in the sale of flowers, this is very much a twentieth-century usage of the word and far from its original meaning.  It was first applied to those who grew plants for the sake of their decorative flowers rather than for any useful property the plant might have.  In his book, Old Fashioned Flowers, Sacheverell Sitwell judged of “the florist’s art being old enough, even now, to have enjoyed two ‘Golden Ages’; the first being in the seventeenth century while the second epoch lasted from 1820 to 1870” although the term ‘florist’ was first used in 1623 by Sir Henry Wotton who wrote of having made “acquaintance with some excellent florists.” …
The florists of this period were generally drawn from the aristocracy, apothecary profession and the clergy and regarded their pastime with an element of superiority.  Florists regarded the cultivation of flowering plants as a serious enterprise and by the mid-seventeenth century four plants were placed in a special category and became known as ‘florists’ flowers’: the Carnation, the Tulip, the Anemone and the Ranunculus.  The Auricula was also popular amongst florists.  The Hyacinth and the Polyanthus joined these five plants during the mid-eighteenth century, and much later the Pink was added.

The interest in florists’ flowers gave birth to the proliferation of florists’ societies, a decidedly English phenomenon, the first being formed in Norwich in 1631.  These societies met to judge the merit of new cultivars and the quality of its members’ blooms. At an accompanying banquet a prize, generally a brass kettle was given to the best plant in each species.  Societies continued to meet throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, it was during the nineteenth century that the proliferation of these societies and the popularity of the florists’ flowers reached their zenith. …

The Industrial Revolution was the root cause of their rise in popularity. As the countryside emptied and cities grew, industrialists, such as Sir Robert Peel, began to see the merits of providing their workers with plots of land to use as gardens.  The health of the workforce was maintained and thus productivity remained high.  The florists’ societies of the nineteenth century were predominantly urban and unlike their ancestors attracted a wider following which included the working class.  These societies created rules regarding the correct form of florists’ flowers. While these did vary from region to region in general each plant had to be capable of producing seed; could be propagated vegetatively; the outline had to be circular; the petals had to have a good texture and be smooth-edged, not fringed or jagged; some variegation of the color was desired; the foliage must be healthy; and the stem must be strong enough to support the flower.

The mania for florists’ flowers fuelled the horticultural magazine industry, but florists also wanted more complete guides to their passion. Robert Sweet’s, The Florist’s Guide, published between 1827 and 1832, provided 200 color plates and was one of the most comprehensive and advanced publications available to florists.  The spectacular illustrations, many of which were taken from watercolors completed by Edwin Dalton Smith (1800-1866?), made this an invaluable aid in the cultivation of florists’ flowers. Smith not only illustrated The Florist’s Guide, but also Sweet’s Flora Australasica; The British Flower Garden; and Geraniaceae.  …
Smith’s exquisite paintings and the publication of The Florist’s Guide occurred at the height of the florists’ flowers popularity. These flowers were a central facet of English botanical illustration during the first half of the nineteenth century.

It may be argued that the field was dominated by such painters as Edwin Dalton Smith who possessed the delicacy of touch and accuracy of depiction required for the illustration of these flowers.  Moreover, his employer Robert Sweet provided florists with one of the most comprehensive guides available and thus, Smith’s watercolors were able to reach a wider audience in printed form.




American Botany in Print

Excerpt from

American Botanical Prints of Two Centuries, Gavin D. R. Bridson,

The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation


“…During the 18th century the beginnings of an engraving and copperplate printing branch of the book trade began to emerge. Largely confined to the great urban centers of Boston, New York and Philadelphia, their work was seen in early engraved maps, maritime charts, battle plans during the War of Independence, illustrated architectural books, some Bible illustrations, and so forth, some of considerable competence…


American illustrated botanical literature made only slow progress…Nevertheless, major works on American botany were still being printed and published in Europe [around 1812)…Over the next few years the American output increased gradually…but quality and quantity of plated produced increased significantly, in several instances matching European standards.


…America’s botanical printmaking always had a more utilitarian goal.  Botanical exploration was to continue right through the century; the last great American wilderness being explored by the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899…Almost the first need was to produce verbal and pictorial descriptions of the native flora of this great New World.


…Alongside the great need to describe and illustrate American plants for scientific purposes was an interest in their practical value, medical botany being a major feature of their exploitation.  Again, illustration was an important element since the correct identification of significant healing plants was crucial, mistakes perhaps proving fatal.


…Another great field for plant exploitation was the rapidly burgeoning horticultural industry.  Apart from the personal needs of American gardeners the creation of great urban centers stimulated immense attention on the identification, selection and production of plant resources for the dinner table, the parlor, the kitchen and the flower garden.


…By mid-century, fruit became a highly important element in the horticulture industry…In 1847-1856 C.M. Hovey published The Fruits of America…The third volume of Ebenezer Emmons’ Agriculture of New York; published at Albany in 1851, dealt with fruit…The Illustrated Pear Culturist of 1857…was soon outclassed by…W.D. Brincklé edition of Hoffy’s North American Pomologist…with 60 remarkable colored plates described by McGrath (1966) as “almost good enough to eat.”

A broad miscellany of popular “colored” books straddled the middle years of the century.  One of the more numerous groups are those on the language, symbolism and poetry of flowers…Some books of this genre sought to improve their fanciful content by adding a simple outline of botany.


[By the end of the 19th –century], all the highly developed skills of [hand drawn printmaking]…were no longer essential for commercial book illustration.  Specialized graphic-arts technicians, …photomechanical printing surfaces, had replaced them all, and sophisticated power-driven machines put the images on paper.

[However,]… in the 20th century, [printmaking] is free to become the sole province of artists who could use its various traditional, and some innovative, techniques to produce creatively conceived and executed images of plants in the form of what we now speak of as true “prints.”

An interesting side note, these illustrations were named with their “local” or “common” names.  Names that often identified the botanist, or the grower, as in the case of  The Diane Grape which originated with Mrs. Diana Crehove, of Milton Hill, near Boston, Ma.  The binomial Latin names by Linnaeas were applied later.  And so, by looking at the various styles of botanical and pomological art and illustration, and understanding the many reasons for illustrating these subjects, we learn that purpose becomes, in many instances, the force behind composition.  I hope you are finding purpose for many new illustrations and coming up to great art.  Happy Thanksgiving to all.  God bless. ?M


Hoffy’s North American pomologist, containing numerous finely colored drawings.  Published 1860 by A. Hoffy in Philadelphia.  Written in English.  To read this book online visit:
To order any of the Edwin Dalton Smith Prints visit:  They are priced at approximately $250 as of November 2012.
To see the many art holdings of the Arader Gallery, visit:

Speaking of Latin Binomial Names,  here ‘s more to think about….

The following excerpts are from an article entitled



The first draft of the article has received editorial contribution by Mr. John Beckner, Curator Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota, Florida and Mr. James J. White, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Olivia Marie Braida-Chiusano, Coordinator of the Ringling School of Art and Design, School of Continuing Studies Botanical Art and Illustration Certificate Program, Sarasota, Florida in an attempt to provide a coordinated effort of mutual interest by persons knowledgeable in the field.


History of botanical nomenclature shows us that naming plants has itself been a work in progress for hundreds of years.  Thus, we are not hesitant to release this first draft in order to peak the interest and awareness of the botanical art community while the article continues as a work in progress.  It is our endeavor to provide information for artists that will prove universally acceptable by the scientific community so that research and exhibited work is not subjected to refusal or repudiation.


  • What is botanical nomenclature? It is the scientific

naming of a plant also referred to as taxonomy.

  • Why do we include botanical nomenclature in

botanical artwork?  Labeling botanical artwork creates historical taxon reference necessary for scientific research and citation.  All botanical artwork performed on behalf of the scientific community would be labeled with its correct Latin name.  Botanical artwork created for the artistic community can, therefore, be informally labeled.

  • What items are included when labeling?  Formal

Labeling, unless under instruction, always includes the following headings:  Family, Genus, Species, Artist Name and Date of Artwork.  The Cultivar is included when applicable.  The informal labeling could include artist’s title of work, common name of plant, artist name and/or date.  If the artist decides on informal labeling and does not date the front of the work, it is suggested that they sign and date the back of the artwork.

  • How does the labeling appear on botanical art and in

what order?  Rules apply primarily to the use of italics, periods, upper and lowercase.  Underline is used only when italic is not available. The order of labeling is clearly an editorial style.  The text can be stacked or spread out and is dependent on the editor.

  • When do we label botanical art? When the artist

chooses to, or when we are requested to do so by an editor.

  • Where do we position botanical labeling?  Generally,

the labeling is placed at the bottom left, right or center of the artwork.  Its position is dictated by the artist, and often by the art itself, or by the editor.


Please let us hear your comments.  God bless. OM



Book Buys

Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners

By William T. Stearn, Timber Press, Oregon. 1996.

Botanical Latin, Fourth Edition,

By William T. Stearn.  Timber Press, Oregon. 2000.

Dictionary of Plant Names

By Allen J. Coombes. Timber Press, Oregon. 1999.

 Old Fashioned Flowers

By Sacheverell Sitwell

The Florist’s Guide 

By Robert Sweet

with 200 color plates illustrated watercolors completed by Edwin Dalton Smith

 Flora Australasica

By Robert Sweet

The British Flower Garden

By Robert Sweet

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