THORNTON, Robert John (circa 1768-1837) - Peter HENDERSON
The Winged Passion Flower
London: June 1st., 1802. Hand-coloured and colour-printed aquatint, stipple and line engraving by Warner. Very good condition. Sheet size: 22 1/2 x 17 3/4 inches.
One of the most strikingly beautiful flower plates ever to be printed in England.
"...the Winged Passion Flower [Passiflora alata L.], brought to Europe from Peru about thirty years before this plate was made, is highly coloured and very sweet-scented...It derives its common name from the thin membrane or `wing' at the angles of its square stems...It flowers somewhat earlier than the Blue Passion Flower, being in bloom from April to August. The colours of the flower being much brighter than those of the Blue Passion Flower it is not necessary, as in the latter, to try to provide a contrasting dark background, and in this case the pillar up which the plant climbs and the general scenery is lighter, giving the whole plate a brighter and more colourful appearance." (Ronald King, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton,. 1981, p. 82) 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 two.