ROBINS, Thomas (1748-1806, the Younger)
Flower subject with insects, Butterfly
Bath: Oct. 1783. Watercolour on laid paper with manuscript description on verso of the fine gold-leaf frame. Image size: 13 1/2 x 8 3/4 inches. Framed size: 22 1/4 x 18 inches. Image size (including text): 13 1/2 x 8 3/4 inches.
Thomas Robins, a native of Bath, was an enigmatic artist known for his watercolors. A small number of signed watercolors in the Broughton Collection at Cambridge University have been attributed to him, particularly in an album inscribed as 'Drawings of Flowers, Ehret, and Robins.' In 1967, the Bath and West Agricultural Society sold a collection of 'Pictures of Exotic Plants and Insects' by Thomas Robins the Younger, who was the son and pupil of the first Thomas Robins. Though there have been debates about differentiating their artistic styles, the exhibition Gardens of Delight, curated by John Harris at the R.I.B.A. in 1976, not only established the importance of the elder Robins' work in 18th-century English Topographical drawing but also shed light on the distinctive style of his son. Thomas Robins the Younger followed in his father's footsteps, focusing on capturing grand residences, gardens, and the natural world. He drew inspiration from his father, both in the subjects he chose and his artistic approach. Robins the Elder's views and landscapes are often noted for exuding the charm and freshness of a personal discovery and the similar joy of a chance encounter manifests here in the watercolour's dynamic scene. The image captures a split-second moment when a butterfly and a bee, hovering into the scene from different directions, about to land on the plant already blissfully occupied by their fellow creatures. By choosing to depict this moment, Robins the Younger suspends the viewer in a state of anticipation, that intense, delicious, but ultimately fleeting moment that can only be re-lived through memory or masterly depictions; the present's work ability to captivate and delight makes it an exquisite example of an especially fine decorative watercolour. The Linnaean and common English names of the plants and insects along with their classification and order are noted on a sheet of paper accompanying this watercolour. Depicted plants include: "shrubby rose colour'd periwinkle," "greater Indian cress or Nasturtium," and "double strip'd stock Gilliflower." The insects shown descending upon the petals are "Marmoris or Half Mourner Butterfly," "East Indian Bee Tyger Moth," and "English Bee Tyger Moth or Death's Head."
The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (exhibition catalogue): British Flower Drawings: An Eight Selection, Principally from the Broughton Collection (1 July - 18 October 1981).