One’s initial reaction to this book is “Oh, coffee table”, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, it is in a large format, and it does have wonderful colored pictures, but there the resemblance stops. Sitwell may have been a poet, but Wilfrid Blunt was a pre-eminent art historian, author of a history of Kew Gardens among other things. Their associates in this endeavor were also very serious.
This book was originally published in 1956. Its purpose was to offer guidance to collectors and those wishing to learn more about the history of horticulture through art. The editors have made slight revisions and incorporated a few more pieces of information to cover the thirty-five year gap. It is not their fault if the subject matter is divine!
In less than two hundred pages, there are more than fifty colored plates, reproduced from the original paintings with great fidelity. The eighteenth century illustrators worked from a copper engraving and colored the prints by hand. Later in the nineteenth century, lithography replaced the copper engraving, but printing in color was still far off.
Probably the most famous of all flower painters was Pierre Joseph Redouté. He is represented in this volume by five plates, There are also nineteen entries for Redouté’s works in the bibliography. He rose from dire poverty to work for Marie Antoinette.
Maria Sybilla Merian, a Dutch woman who painted in the Surinam jungle with her daughter Dorothea in the 1690s, was primarily interested in insects. Some readers may recall that her pictures of flowers were used for US postage stamps about five years ago.
Three hundred years later, the Englishwoman Margaret Mee traveled to the same territory in her eighties and sent back work of surpassing beauty and fidelity to nature.
Georg Dionys Ehret was another eighteenth century master. He began as a gardener in Heidelberg, but ended as a protégé of the Duchess of Portland in England, for whom ‘Portland’ roses were named.
All this artistic effort was stimulated by the arrival of one extraordinarily beautiful plant after another in England and the Continent, starting in the late seventeenth century. People do not realize that the native English flora was somewhat sparse. With travel across the Turkish Empire and the opening of the Americas, this changed radically. The plants we take for granted such as lilac, tulips, and carnations for example, were all imported from the Mediterranean regions
Great Flower Books 1700 —1900
A Bibliographical Record of Two Centuries of Finely-illustrated Flower Books
New York, The Atlantic Monthly Press - 1990
The San Francisco Garden Club
New member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society