THORNTON, Robert John (circa 1768-1837). - Peter HENDERSON
A Group of Carnations [First State]
London: April 2nd., 1803. Hand-coloured and colour-printed aquatint, stipple and line engraving by Caldwell. Sheet size: 20 7/16 x 15 5/8 inches.
The most strikingly beautiful flower plates ever to be printed in England.
"Carnations are cultivated forms of Dianthus caryophyllus, a flower grown in gardens since the time of the Emperor Augustus, during whose reign, according to Pliny, it was introduced to Rome from Spain. Found on castle ruins both in France and England, it has been suggested that it made its way to England from France in Norman times on stone imported for building castles. It was popular in medieval times both for its colour and its clove scent, and from the latter was known as the `clove-gillyflower'. Many varieties have been bred such as those shown in this picture, which was painted by Peter Henderson. These belong to what are called `florist's flowers', that is, varieties conforming to certain recognized standards. Those with broad stripes of one colour were classed as `Flakes': the Flakes in this group were named by Thornton `Palmers's Dutchess of Dorset' and `Palmer's Defiance'. Those with stripes of two or three colours were known as `Bizarres': Thornton called the Bizarres in this group `Caustin's British Monarch' and `Midwinter's Dutchess of Wurtemburg'. Those with toothed and coloured edges to the petals were `Piquettes', in this case `Davey's Defiance' and `Princess of Wales'." (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p.60). Thornton's 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). First state of two of this plate from the Temple of Flora. `Minute alterations which in no way affected the appearance of the prints were made at an early stage of this plate, which... is one of the finest of Thornton's productions. In its final state... the background has been entirely removed and a bluish white wash substituted, while the temple on the right has been re-engraved.. Impressions of the Carnations vary therefore more widely than any others.' (Handasyde Buchanan. Thornton's Temple of Flora, 1951, p.16).