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Natural History Art, Sea Shells, R. Ackermann, 1820, Antique Prints


British Regency Shell and Marine Still Lifes
R. Ackermann’s, London: 1820
Color-printed etching and aquatints, finished by hand
6.5 x 8.75 inches, platemark
9 x 11 inches, overall
$2,400, set of 8

Set of eight prints, each a naturalistic still life design incorporating seashells or other marine organisms, resting on a small, colorful patch of delicately rendered seaweed. Through a method developed by the great French botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redoute in 1796, the colors were applied to the etched plate a la poupée before each printing, giving the soft, subtle and freehand effect of a watercolor.

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The prints are typical of those found in the genre of instructional art sets that were popular in the early 19th century, when drawing and painting was considered part of the essential education of accomplished young women. Generally these treatises focused on subjects such as flowers, fruit, natural history, and landscapes. According to one source, the prints are from an 1821 drawing book published by Rudolph Ackermann, edited by J. Dougall, having a total of 31 colored engravings, entitled The Cabinet of Arts: Being a New and Universal Drawing Book Forming a Complete System of Drawing; Painting in all its Branches, Etching, Engraving. According to the introduction of this drawing book, it was an instructional treatise for “the young draughtsman and painter.”

Ackermann & Co. was a prominent British publisher and printseller. The firm was founded by Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834), publishing as R. Ackermann from 1795 to 1829. Ackermann was born in Germany and came to England in the 1780s. He pioneered lithography in Britain (though frequently working with color-printed etchings and aquatints), and became a leading publisher of fine colorplate books, decorative prints and magazines, as well as sheet music of the Regency period. In 1797, Ackermann relocated the business premises to 101 Strand, which were known by 1798 as “The Repository of Arts,” also the title of a periodical with a large number of prints that he published from 1809 to 1828. As suggested by the full title of the publication, Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, the subject matter of the Repository was wide ranging. Among the most influential and popular images in the series were studies of Regency decorative arts, interior design and fashion, as well as various city and country views. Ackermann was a major patron of British artists and designers, notably the famous caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), whose works were featured in the famous set of London interiors and exteriors entitled Microcosm of London (R. Ackermann, London, 1808-10). Ackermann also manufactured and sold art supplies. In 1829, Rudolph transferred the business to three of his sons, who traded as Ackermann & Co. from 1829 to 1859. During the 20th century the company had offices in London, Paris, New York and Chicago. The business continued until the end of the century, last operating as Arthur Ackermann and Son.

Full publication information: R. Ackermann’s, 101 Strand, London.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, soft creases. Some very faint scattered foxing not obtrusive. Unbound edge present as issued, to be matted out when framed.


Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. 24 January 2005. (4 May 2007).

“Rudolph Ackermann.” National Portrait Gallery. May 2007. (4 May 2007).

Additional information


19th Century