Renderings of Indian plants, originally published as part of a set of 295 plates. Many of these exotic species were introduced to Western viewers for this first time through this series. It was also one of the first botanical sets illustrated with lithography (Blunt, 252). The work was subsidized by the British East India Company, and every aspect of the production maintained a very high level of craftsmanship. Only 254 copies of the collection were issued. The plants illustrated included varieties of clematis, begonia, geranium, hedera, jasmine, ormosia, potentilla, aikinia and ruellia.
Nathaniel Wallich, who oversaw the production, was the first European to study the plants of Nepal and countries to the south of the Himalayas. Originally from Denmark, he joined the British East India Company in 1813, and served as director of the Calcutta botanic garden from 1817 to 1846. Over two-thirds of the images were based on watercolor paintings by two Indian artists, Gorchand and Vishnupersaud (sometimes referred to as Vishnu Prasad). Wallich also took an extended leave of absence from his post in 1828 to supervise the printing and hand-coloring of the images in England.
Vishnupersaud (sometimes referred to as Vishnu Prasad) was an Indian artist frequently employed by European botanists working in India, including John Forbes Royle, Nathaniel Wallich and Francis Buchanan. Prasad’s skill was said to be unequalled “among all the natives of this country and rarely exceeded by any botanical draftsman in Europe'” (PlantCultures.org). Botanical illustration expert Wilfrid Blunt included one of Vishnupersaud’s watercolors in his survey The Art of Botanical Illustration as an example of “the patience and fine craftsmanship displayed by these Indian painters” and noted as follows: “Thus we see that the East has made an original and very real contribution to botanical art, and has been an influence which, during the last two centuries, has not infrequently been felt in Western flower painting.”
Maxim Gauci was one of the early practitioners of lithography for botanical illustrations. He was born in Malta and worked in London. His important works include Nathaniel Wallich’s Plantae Asiaticae Rariores and James Bateman’s Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala (1837-43), an impressive work in both quality and scale -- it remains the largest botanical book ever produced with lithographic plates. Blunt praises Gauci as “a master of the process, he ranged his tone from the palest of silvery greys to the richest velvet black; his outline is never mechanical or obtrusive.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Some slight variations to paper tone for different prints.
Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1994. pl. 53, pp. 185, 252.
Dunthorne, Gordon. Flower and Fruit Prints of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. Their History, Makers and Uses, with a Catalogue Raisonne of the Works in Which They are Found. Washington, D.C.: Published by the Author, 1938. 326.
Muthiah, S. “Cottingley's pictorial flora.” The Hindu. 13 November 2006. http://www.hindu.com/mp/2006/11/13/stories/2006111300400500.htm (21 May 2008).
Nissen, Claus. Die Botanische Buchillustration: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1951-66. 2099.
Pritzel, Georg August. Thesaurus Literaturae Botanicae Omnium Gentium. Milan: 1950. 9957.
Sitwell, Sacheverell. Great Flower Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. 149.
Stafleu, Frans A. and Richard S.Cowan. Taxonomic Literature. Utrecht: 1967. 2nd ed., Utrecht: 1976-1988. TL2 16.583.
“Working for the company.” PlantCultures.org. http://www.plantcultures.org/themes/arts_working_for_the_company.html (21 May 2008).