Flower Power: The Story of Botanical Art
Hill Tulips Print

John Hill's Tulips from Eden or A Compleat Body of Gardening displayed varieties of this desirable bulb.

Fitch orchid

John Nugent Fitch presented outstanding speciments of popular plants in The Orchid Album.

Sepia-printed ferns

Nature-printed ferns by Henry Bradbury showed striking details.

There's more than meets the eye to botanical prints. The decorative and aesthetic qualities of fine art meet the meticulous observation of science. The subjects also reflect the preoccupations of the cultures and times when they were made. Here are a few key cultural trends of the 17th through 19th centuries and their influence on botanical art:


In the 17th century tulipomania swept Holland and a speculative market caused a surge in the price of choice tulip bulbs. Beautiful tulip species, cultivated in British gardens in the 18th Century, are expertly rendered by the renowned Dutch flower artist Jan Van Huysum for John Hill's A Compleat Body of Gardening (shown top left). Also notable are the tulip prints of Johann Wilhelm Weinmann.

Orchid Obsessions

In the 19th Century, British horticulturists developed a passion for orchids and ferns. John Nugent Fitch's Orchid Album (shown top center) illustrated "the best forms of these singular and captivating aristocratic plants," for enthusiasts interested in growing them. The orchid form was further popularized by the Art Nouveau movement.

Fern Fancies

Nature-printed plants were created in mid 19th century England and Vienna (shown top right) by pressing real specimens in lead, transferring the image by electrotype to a copper plate and printing and hand-coloring each one.

Basilius Besler print from Hortus Eystettensis

Basilius Besler's Hortus Eysttensis (1613) was the first major compendium of botanical plates.

Duhamel Fruit Print

Duhamel Du Monceau's Traite des Arbres Fruitierscatalogued the varieties of domestic fruit trees.

Weinmann banana tree

Weinmann showed exotic species like this banana tree to a curious European audience.

Cataloguing Nature

Beginning in the 17th Century and accelerating during the Enlightenment of the 18th Century, European artists and scientists undertook major projects collecting and cataloguing nature in its breathtaking variety. Hortus Eysttensis (shown far left), the first major compendium of botanical illustrations, was published in 1613 by Basilius Besler. A team of at least 10 engravers worked on this massive project under Besler for 16 years to document the magnificent gardens of the Prince Bishop of Eichstätt, Germany. In the 18th century, Johann Wilhelm Weinmann and others produced plates illustrating what to Europeans were exotic, newly-discovered flora and fauna, such as the banana tree (shown left), as well as studies of domestic plants used in herbal remedies. The early 19th century saw the continuation of this Enlightenment project, with large horticultural studies such as Henri Duhamel Du Monceau's Traite des Arbres Fruitiers, (shown far left) and plates for gardeners, e.g. Jane Wells Loudon's The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants (shown below far right).

Portrait of artist Pierre Redoute

Portrait of one of the greatest botanical artists, Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

Redoute Botanical From Choix Des Plus Belles Fleurs

Bouquet by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, from Choix Des Plus Belles Fleurs.

Loudon flowers

Jane Wells Loudon's Ladies' Flower-Garden inspired English gardeners.

In the 19th century, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) (right) recorded many of the beautiful ornamental garden flowers of Napoleon's wife, the Empress Josephine. The greatest engravers of the period were engaged to create stipple engraved prints based on Redouté's original watercolors. He is considered the greatest botanical artist of the golden era of botanical illustration.

Dietszsch bouquet painting

Barbara Regina Dietzsch painted floral bouquets in a meticulous and luminous style.

Casteels and Furber's seasonal bouquet

Robert Furber published a series of seasonal bouquets after Pieter Casteels.

Champin bouquet

Shown above with detail below: Elisa-Honorine Champin's bouquets have the naturalistic quality of scientific illustration.

Currier and Ives bouquet of roses and bluebells

Currier & Ives produced bouquets appealing to the Victorian taste.

Bouquets in Botanical Art

Bouquet compositions of varieties of flowers in botanical illustrations derive from a tradition that begins with Dutch Old Master still life pictures, continues in the 18th century works of Jean Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699), Barbara Regina Dietzsch (1706-1783) (shown right) and Pieter Casteels' (1684-1749) series of flowers of the months published by Robert Furber in London to promote his nursery business in 1730 (shown far right).

In the second quarter of the 19th century, Pierre-Joseph Redouté introduced bouquets into his works in Choix Des Plus Belles Fleurs (shown above center). In the second half of the 19th century various European artists such as Elisa-Honorine Champin (shown right with detail below) and William Mussill produced floral compositions arranged for beautiful decorative effect, some as bouquets, while depicting the the plants in an accurate and naturalistic manner. By contrast, the large numbers of popular prints of floral bouquets produced by the American publisher Currier & Ives in the second half the 19th century tended toward stylized still life compositions (shown far right).

Copyright © 2002-2014 by George D. Glazer. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.