CURTIS, Samuel (1779-1860); Clara Maria POPE (ca.1768-1838)
Hand-coloured aquatint with stipple engraving, proof impression on paper watermarked Whatman 1818. Engraved by Weddell after Clara Maria Pope and hand coloured by Clara Maria Pope. Provenance: Descendant of Samuel Curtis, Gordon Dunthorne. Sheet size: (27 1/2 x 21 3/4 inches).
An exquisite proof impression from a work that 'is so excessively rare that it is hardly known at all by the public' ('Great Flower Books').
Samuel Curtis was the cousin and heir of William Curtis (the originator of the Botanical Magazine) and he married William's daughter Sarah. Samuel began publication of his The Beauties of Flora in 1810, but the project was put aside. The reasons for this were probably a combination of the pressure of his other commitments (he was a nurseryman and also the proprietor of the Botanical Magazine) allied with having the business acumen to realise that if Dr.Thornton could not make money from his Temple of Flora - he had just been declared bankrupt - then he was not going to either. He did not resume the work until 1820 when the first two plates were re-issued with new imprints, a new title and an additional 8 plates were published. Despite enlisting the artistic talents of Clara Maria Pope for the later plates, the work was not financially successful and Curtis quietly dropped the idea. The work is very rare, no complete set has been sold at auction in the past twenty-five years. Comparisons with Thornton'sTemple of Flora are inevitable: Wilfred Blunt writes 'Equally sumptuous, Samuel Curtis's The Beauties of Flora...with only ten plates, is so excessively rare that it is hardly known at all to the public...Of all little known English flower books this is perhaps the most splendid.' (Great Flower Books pp.21-2). The Beauties of Flora displays the genius of Clara Maria Pope as represented in the present example, one of her greatest published images. Dunthorne writes that Pope 'should be included amongst the great botanical draughtsmen,' and Blunt notes that 'she had a sense of the dramatic, and knew how to paint in the grand manner.' Clara Maria Pope came from an artistic background - her father was the amateur artist Jared Leigh (1724-1769), her first husband was the artist Francis Wheatley (1747-1801), and her second husband the Irish actor and artist Alexander Pope (1763-1835). She started her career as a miniature painter and under the instruction of her first husband painted genre scenes in watercolour, becoming a distinguished artist in her own right. She went on to become a highly successful painting instructor - her pupils included Princess Sophie of Gloucester and the Duchess of St. Albans. In the 19th century, the enchanting hyacinth, celebrated for its vibrant colors and captivating fragrance, graced ornate floral beds in English gardens, becoming a symbol of elegance and love. With its ease of cultivation, it became a favorite for indoor forcing, offering an early glimpse of spring's beauty. At the height of its popularity, Holland showcased an astonishing 2,000 varieties, although today only about 30 remain.
Cf. BM(NH) I,p.407; cf. Dunthorne 84; cf. Nissen BBI 437; cf. Stafleu & Cowan TL2 1284; cf. Great Flower Books (1990) p.88.