EDWARDS, John (1742-1815)
A Collection of Flowers drawn after Nature, & disposed in an Ornamental & Picturesque Manner
London: 1783-1798. Folio. (19 1/16 x 13 1/4 inches). Engraved throughout. Stipple-engraved and mezzotint decorative allegorical title with mounted oval paper lettering slip and manuscript imprint dated 2 January 1798, 79 fine hand-coloured engraved plates by Edwards.
Expertly bound to style in contemporary mottled calf, covers with a Greek key scroll border, spine gilt with raised bands in six compartments, red morocco lettering piece.
A fine copy of an Edwards' masterpiece.
The excellent plates fall into two main categories. There are 12 plates of designs with a floral theme, and 67 plates of botanical subjects, either single sprays or small bouquets, often tied with ribbon. Of these latter botanical plates, 29 show the subjects within ovals defined by a bodycolour border and 35 have a simple border. The three largest plates have no borders and include the works masterpiece, plate 69 Eastern Poppy, this plate alone justifies Dunthorne's assertion. Most of the plates have captions and imprints lightly printed in sepia, so that the images resemble original watercolours. Edwards lived in London until about 1778 when he moved to Surrey, exhibiting at the Society of Artists, of which he was a member, and at the Royal Academy. In addition to the fine arts he also provided designs for textiles, particularly cotton calico. Between 1769 and 1770 he published Edwards British Herbal in monthly parts, with text garnered from the works of contemporary botanists and 100 fine hand-coloured engraved plates from his own designs. The plates already show that his interests lay not so much in the accurate depiction of botanical specimens as the design possibilities of beautiful flowers. The work was clearly a success and was reissued in 1770 as The British Herbal and again in 1775 as A Select Collection of One Hundred Plates. The present work -- his masterpiece-- was his next publishing venture. Working from the imprint dates of the plates it is clear that he began to publish designs for the work in 1783, with plates being completed periodically throughout the 1780s and well into the following decade. Unlike his previous work, all the plates are designed, etched and coloured by Edwards himself, a process which gave him complete control over the publication. "[D]espite the claims of the title, a whimsical and purely decorative vision prevails ... In the plates to A Collection of Flowers, which were all drawn, etched and coloured by Edwards himself, the flowers are gathered in tempestuous bouquets tied with brightly coloured ribbons, or else placed on the page in unusual, yet graceful, arrangements ... Thus John Edwards depicted the natural world from the perspective of the artist, revelling in its infinite variety of forms and colours, in a vision of Neoclassical elegance with a lingering trace of the Rococo" (Tomasi). A "superb and very rare work by a great artist, whose craftsmanship is equal to the best of the 18th century" (Dunthorne).
Dunthorne 105; Great Flower Books (1990) p.93; Henrey III.673; Nissen BBI 579; Tomasi, Oak Spring Flora 64.