THORNTON, Robert John (circa 1768-1837). - Peter HENDERSON
The Indian Reed
[Pl. 29] London: 1804. Hand-coloured and colour-printed in aquatint and line by Caldwell. Sight size: 20 x 15 1/4 inches. Gold-leaf frame, "Amiran" archival glass, with UV protection and an anti-reflective surface. Framed size: 27 3/4 x 22 3/4 inches.
The most strikingly beautiful flower plates ever to be printed in England.
A very fine view of the exotic Indian Reed Canna indica L. Thornton, during "the colour-finishing by hand...got his colourists to add five petals, one in each flower, and a long pointed bud at the top of the spike. The final process of hand-colouring...added greatly to the effectiveness of a number of Thornton's plates...but this is the only one where he took such...action that it altered the character of the plate...[For the second state Henderson effectively replaced the hand-painted changes of the first state] and the augmented red flower spike stands out boldly against the sky. The large leaves at the bottom are beautifully lit. The plant itself, Canna indica, the well-known garden plant still much used for formal bedding, needs no description. The background river is presumably the Ganges, and the tall pagoda adds an eastern touch" (Ronald King, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton, 1981, p.106). 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 [were] 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). Two states of this plate are descibed by Buchanan. However, the present image seems to be a third intermediate state with the hand-painted petals and buds of the first state but with the aquatint removed from the sky as in the second state. (Handasyde Buchanan, Thornton's The Temple of Flora, 1951, p.19).