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Australian botanicals.. ‘native’ or ‘exotic’?

In botany, the word ‘exotic’ is used to indicate a botanical specimen has been introduced from another country. Many people describe our own native plants as ‘exotic’, meaning they have unusual foliage and flowers, - different from the better-known introduced  annuals and perennials. Australia's flower emblem is the Acacia - better known as Wattle, and we illustrate this article with examples of original antique prints of these that are available  from the Antique Print Club.

Hundreds of years ago explorers travelled from Europe in search of new lands - to claim and settle, or to use as a source for trade. Whether by a professional botanist, a ship’s doctor, or an artistic crew member given the task, on these early voyages sketches were made of the first European sightings of Australian flora – limited only by accuracy in scientific observation and artistic skill of the artist.

In England in the 18th century, following public demand, many works were published to illustrate beautiful botany from around the world. A.Acacia lanigera.2922William Curtis (1746-1799) was Praefectus Hortis of Chelsea Physic Garden in London. He began lectures at Kew Gardens in London in 1787 and began illustrating the plants he discussed. The Botanical Magazine; or Flower-Garden Displayed was published by Curtis to illustrate plants from around the world “in response.. to.. solicitations for a work.. (combining) Botany and Gardening”. Continuously published since then, it is now known as The Kew Magazine. Finely engraved, partially coloured to show the dissection details of flowers and leaves, the narrow upper right image is an excellent example of Curtis hand-coloured engravings.

William Curtis nurtured the artistic talent of many botanical artists. In the same year as the first series of botanical plates was issued, Curtis was introduced to and was impressed by the artistic ability of a young Welshman, Sydenham Teast Edwards (1769-1819). Curtis brought him to London and trained him in the art of botanical illustration. For over twenty years until William Curtis died, Sydenham Edwards sketched most of the illustrations for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. From his sketches, Francis Sansom created finely engraved copperplates which were printed on hand-made paper and individually hand-coloured with natural pigments. Curtis illustrations with their fine detail, which often includes dissections of the flower, have always been revered, not only for their beauty but also for their scientific accuracy. When the interesting accompanying text has also survived with the botanical study, they are a wonderful treasure.

Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) was born in Luxembourg and became a painter and interior decorator like his father and grandfather. In 1782 he worked in Paris with his older brother, but was persuaded to illustrate flowers instead, by two botanists who appreciated his artistic skill. Except during 1787-8 when he studied botanical specimens at Kew Gardens in London, Redouté spent most of his life sketching and painting for numerous botanical publications in France. He was appointed to the court of Marie Antoinette, and after the revolution worked at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. A master of the stipple engraving process he learned in England and introduced to France, Redouté dominated botanical painting in France from 1790 to 1830.

Napoleon Bonaparte had always been interested in gardening and science. His first wife, Josephine, acquired a large collection of plants from around the world for her famous gardens at Petite Trianon and later Malmaison. She was patron to Redoute and later appointed him court artist. Although Redouté is probably best known today for his beautiful illustrations of Roses and Lilies, his largest work was hisChoix des Plus Belles Fleurs.., (his choice of most beautiful flowers and fruit). We are indebted to Napoleon’s love of science and exploration, for wonderful, large, rarely-seen botanical images of Australian flora by Redouté, published around 1800.

A.Acacia pubescensIn England, Benjamin Maund (1790-1863) was a pharmacist, botanist, printer, bookseller, and fellow of the Linnean Society (from 1827). Maund published botanical illustrations from 1825 in The Botanist: containing accurately coloured figures, of tender and hardy ornamental plants... Maund’s charming botanical images have uncoloured sections of the main beautifully drawn floral specimen, as well as of the additional flower and foliage detail. They are delightful works, showing meticulous detail in each finely hand-coloured engraving.

The superbly coloured botanical lithographs and engravings that were published by Joseph Paxton are quite a contrast in A.Acacia oxycedrusstyle. Almost glamorous by comparison, on thicker paper (not hand-made), they usually show slight age discolouration; but I think this actually adds to the charm of these brightly coloured antique prints.

Despite little education Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) had considerable talent as both  architect and engineer, but was better known as a landscape gardener after being head gardener at one of the finest landscaped gardens in England, Chatsworth House. In 1831 Paxton began publishing botanical illustrations as a monthly magazine, The Horticultural Register. This was followed from 1834 to 1849 with hundreds of superb aquatints and hand-coloured lithographs for his Magazine of Botany. Paxton published other botanical works, but no antique prints surpassed the quality of these, with the depth and crispness of their colour.

Today, as cities become more densely populated and people move into apartment buildings and lose their gardens, the benefit of botanical pictures on our walls cannot be over-estimated. As well as being decorative, botanical artwork brings peace to a structural environment. Whether a haven away from work, an educational and active family environment, or a place where you spend a relaxing retirement, homes can all be improved by framed botanical artwork. Select from a great collection of antique prints of Australian native flora at

Posted: 25/02/2014 2:37:55 PM by | with 0 comments