THORNTON, Robert John (circa 1768-1837). - Sydenham Teast EDWARDS (1768-1819)
London: June 1801. Hand-coloured and colour-printed aquatint, stipple and line engraving by Warner. Sheet size: 20 5/8 x 17 1/8 inches.
The most strikingly beautiful flower plates ever to be printed in England.
"The hyacinth [Hyacinthus orientalis L.] reached western Europe from its native home in the south-eastern part of that continent in the sixteenth century, probably via Constantinople. It soon became a favourite of western gardeners and, although prices paid for it never equalled those paid for tulips, a single bulb of a variety called `Rouge eblouissante' sold for £83 at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Flowering early in the spring, capable of being forced for indoor show from Christmas onwards and available in the brightest of colours, the popularity of the hyacinth has increased with the passing of the years. Thornton names the varieties shown in the plate. The double white is called `La Second state of two of this plate from the Temple of Flora. `This plate must have been reworked early on, as the first impressions are very uncommon... The first state is almost all in delicate aquatint with the flowers in stipple. The foreground is hardly lined at all, and is coloured green. The modelling of the river is pleasantly irregular. The clouds are light. A very pretty print. Heroine', the double white with the small red spots `Diana van Epheson', the double light blue `Globe Terrestre', the double dark blue with green at the edges of the petals `Velour Purpre', and the single dark blue `Don Gartuit'. Thornton did not normally employ professional botanical artists for his work, but this plate is an exception. It was painted by the fine botanical artist... Edwards, who was responsible for much of the best work in the early years of Curtis's Botanical Magazine. " (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 56). 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). In the second state the foreground, now coloured brown, is furrowed with lines. Bushes are added and there is much added... aquatint. The river has regular... lines, while the far bank on the right, which was curving, is now straight. The ship and the house are... re-etched. The clouds are also much heavier.' (Handasyde Buchanan. Thornton's Temple of Flora, 1951, p.15).