THORNTON, Robert John (circa 1768-1837). - Peter REINAGLE
Large Flowering Sensitive Plant
London: Dec. 1st., 1799. Hand-coloured and colour-printed aquatint, stipple and line engraving by Stadler. Sheet size: 22 1/2 x 17 3/4 inches.
The most strikingly beautiful flower plates ever to be printed in England.
"The feature of this picture that catches the eye first is the mass of curving threads which comprise the clusters of bright red stamens that sweep gracefully out of the flowers...the dominating visual characteristic of the plant [Callandria grandiflora (L'Hérit.) Bentham]. There is, however, another character of this plant which is interesting and surprising, but which could not be rendered visually by the artist. It is one of a group which are sensitive to touch, and which when handled fold their leaves sharply in a reaction akin in effect, though brought about in a different way, to the operation of the nervous system in animals, a sight which fascinates most people when they first see it. The plate is noteworthy for its fine background, which plays a large part in the effect it achieves... Intended to represent Jamaica's wooded hills under a bright sky it manages admirably to creat[sic.] the right feeling, helped by the figure gazing in admiration at the plant in full flower in the middle distance and the brightly-coloured humming birds probing the flowers in the foreground for nectar. Philip Reinagle painted the picture, which was engraved by Stadler,... [an] engraver of surpassing skill... A very pleasing plate." (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p.78). 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.