Flower Power: The Story of Botanical Art

by George Glazer and Helen Glazer © 2002-2019

View our current inventory: Botanicals, Flowers & Fruit and Flower Compositions

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. Below are a few key cultural trends of the 17th through 19th centuries and their influence on botanical art.

 

Flower Power tulip icon

Plate 34
John Hill’s Tulips from Eden or A Compleat Body of Gardening displayed varieties of this desirable bulb.

Weinmann tulips
Tulips from Johann Wilhelm Weinmann’s Phytanthoza Iconographia.

Tulipomania

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 here). Also notable are the tulip prints in Johann Wilhelm Weinmann’s Phytanthoza Iconographia (1737-1745) one of the most comprehensive and finest color plate florilegia ever produced.

Plate 22, Cattleya superba
Large color plates from Sertum Orchidaceum, a Victorian work on orchids edited by the distinguished British botanist John Lindley, among the foremost orchidologists of his era.

Orchid Obsessions

In the 19th century, British horticulturists developed a passion for orchids and ferns. British botanist John Lindley, among the foremost orchidologists of his era, issued  Sertum Orchidaceum in ten parts between 1837 and 1841 , just as orchid cultivation was becoming fashionable among the aristocracy leading to what has been called “orchidomania.” John Nugent Fitch’s Orchid Album (1882-97) illustrated “the best forms of these singular and captivating aristocratic plants,” for enthusiasts interested in growing them. Illustrated books on orchids remained very popular through the second half of the 19th century and in some cases provide the only record today of extinct species.

During the late Victorian era, when orchidomania spread throughout Europe, Jean-Jules Linden and his son Lucien (1853-1940) were renowned commerical orchid growers in Belgium, then a center of orchid cultivation. Linden spent his twenties traveling throughout South and Central America in search of new species. Upon his return to Belgium he established his plant nursery where he and his son are credited with having collected specimens of over a thousand orchid species as well as breeding new hybrids. He engaged top botanical illustrators and printers to produce 813 chromolithograph color plates for his monumental 17-volume work Iconographie des Orchidées (1885-1903), also known as “Lindenia.”

The orchid form was further popularized by the Art Nouveau movement.

Nature Printed Fern
Nature printed fern from The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland by Henry Bradbury (1855-57).
Ruscus hypoglossum Linn.
Nature-printed plant from Constantin Freiherrn von Ettingshausen and Alois Pokorny’s Physiotypia Plantarum Austriacarum, first printed in Vienna in the 1850s.

Fern Fancies and Nature Printing

Nature-prints of ferns and other species were created in Victorian England and 19th-century Vienna by pressing actual specimens in lead, transferring the image by electrotype to a copper plate and printing and hand-coloring each one. The process allowed the reproduction of the finest details down to the veins of fern fronds and leaves. In a sense, nature itself provides the artistic detail as revealed through the nature printing medium. The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland, edited by John Lindley, contained 51 plates executed by Henry Bradbury. According to the noted botanical scholar Wilfred Blunt, this series is “the crowning achievement of nature printing” in terms of science and aesthetics. Meanwhile Physiotypia Plantarum Austriacarum is one of the greatest ever nature printed books. The original collection consisted of 530 plates published in Vienna, c. 1855-56, printed in sepia ink.  A second edition, published in Prague in 1873, expanded the number of plates to 1,000.  Nature printing became obsolete in the early 20th century when x-ray photography provided a more efficient means of achieving the same kind of detailed record of plant characteristics such as patterns of leaf veining.

Besler Paeonia mas maior flore incarnato [Peony and Milkwort]
Print from Basilius Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis [The Garden of Eichstätt] illustrating a peony with milkwort, a groundbreaking work published in 1613 and subsequently reissued.

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, 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. One example is shown here, but search our site to see other Besler prints in our inventory. 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, 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, and plates for gardeners, e.g. Robert Sweet’s The Florist’s Guide and Cultivator’s Directory.

Weinmann Plate 228, Banana
Weinmann showed exotic species like this banana tree to a curious European audience.
Plate 114, Bon-chrétien d'hiver
Duhamel Du Monceau’s Traite des Arbres Fruitiers catalogued the varieties of domestic fruit trees.
Robert Sweet Botanical Prints
Ornamental garden flowers such as primulas were featured in Robert Sweet’s Florist’s Guide (1827-1832) to provide inspiration to gardeners.
Magnolia Macrophylla, Plate 33
Magnolia blossom from one of Redouté’s major works, which documented the gardens of the Empress Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon.
Oreilles d'Ours, Primula Auricula Var.
Bouquet by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, from Choix Des Plus Belles Fleurs.

Redouté, Leading Artist of the Golden Era of Botanical Illustration

In the 19th century, the French artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) 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, having produced major works depicting roses, lilies, the blossoms and fruit of flowering trees, and other ornamental species. Search our site for Redouté works in our inventory.

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

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) and the late-18th-century and early-19th-century prints after watercolors by Jean Louis Prevost (c. 1760-1810).

In the second quarter of the 19th century, Pierre-Joseph Redouté introduced bouquets into his works in Choix Des Plus Belles Fleurs . In the second half of the 19th century various European artists such as Elisa-Honorine Champin 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.

Prevost Bouquet of Roses
Jean Louis Prévost’s botanical prints were intended as source material for designers of porcelain and fabric.
Floral Bouquet by Elisa-Honorine Champin
Elisa-Honorine Champin’s bouquets have the naturalistic quality of scientific illustration.
Anton Seder, Plate 48
Anton Seder’s botanical-inspired designs, published in Vienna in 1890, include stylized bouquets inspired by the Art Nouveau style popular at the time.

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