THORNTON, Robert John (circa 1768-1837) - Peter REINAGLE
The Blue Passion Flower
London: Jan. 1800. Hand-coloured and colour-printed aquatint, stipple and line engraving by Caldwell. Sheet size: 22 1/2 x 17 3/4 inches.
One of the most strikingly beautiful flower plates ever to be printed in England.
"[Passiflora caerulea L.] The species of Passion Flower depicted in this plate, a native of Brazil and Peru and known in Europe since 1699, was the first discovered that was hardy in the cooler regions of the earth and could therefore, in Thornton's time, when glasshouses were less common, be more easily grown over a larger area of the world. Its flowers are only faintly scented and last but one day, but they are produced over several months, and plants flowering first in June often continue until October. In this plate both flowers and leaves have been depicted by the painter, Philip Reinagle, with life-like accuracy and engraved by Caldwell with a masterly fidelity. The delicate stipple of the flowers and their modelling, and that of the leaves is of a standard not often reached." (Ronald King, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton, 1981, p. 80) Thornton's The Temple of Flora is the greatest English colour-plate flower book. "...[Thornton] inherited a competent fortune and trained as a doctor. He appears to have had considerable success in practice and was appointed both physician to the Marylebone Dispensary and lecturer in medical botany at Guy's and St. Thomas's hospitals. But quite early in his career he embarked on his...great work. What Redouté produced under the patronage of L'Héritier, Marie Antoinette, the Empress Josephine, Charles X, and the Duchesse de Berry, Thornton set out to do alone... Numerous important artists were engaged...twenty-eight paintings of flowers commissioned from Abraham Pether, known as `Moonlight Pether,' Philip Reinagle, ...Sydenham Edwards, and Peter Henderson...The result...involved Thornton in desperate financial straits...In an attempt to extricate himself he organized the Royal Botanic Lottery, under the patronage of the Prince Regent...It is easy to raise one's eyebrows at Thornton's unworldly and injudicious approach to publishing...But he produced...one of the loveliest books in the world." (Alan Thomas, Great Books and Book Collecting, pp.142-144) Second state of three.