Beauty in Nature
As befits the time of year, this blog focuses on some of the wonderfully illustrated botanical works held in Special Collections. The library has been collecting such works since it opened in 1849. In the 19th century, painstaking and accurate representation of plant characteristics was critical as there was no other media to convey the plant’s appearance. This is so unlike today when we can use film and digital images so successfully. Despite this, however, the art of botanical illustration is still alive and well as some of the fine drawings in more recent publications will attest.
This example of 19th century illustrated works was among a series, unusually at that time, more aimed at the amateur gardener and botanist rather than the scientific or professional gardening community. Familiar Garden Flowers is primarily the work of James Shirley Hibberd (1825-1890), credited with promoting amateur gardening in Britain for the first time. Familiar Wild Flowers series was the work of Frederick Edward Hulme who had provided the illustrations for Hibberd’s work. Hulme, an artist and a keen amateur naturalist, also wrote on natural history and antiquarian subjects. Accounts of both Hibberd and Hulme's careers are available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and in issues of the journal Garden History, available online through the library catalogue.
Ireland has had a long tradition of botanical research and illustration. You can read more about this in Patricia Butler’s Irish botanical illustrators and flower painters, published in 2000 and available in Special Collections.
Like the works above the 19th and early 20th centuries saw the publication of volumes designed for the non-specialist reader. Robert Lloyd Praeger, a Belfast man whose family had Dutch origins, was among the best-known exponents, though he himself was a highly accomplished scholar. Through his involvement with organisations such as the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club and his inveterate enthusiasm for fieldwork Praeger covered many parts of Ireland.
This work details the results of his many forays into the west of Ireland, as illustrated by the accompanying map.
In 1993, our retired library colleague, Timothy Collins, published a detailed account of Praeger’s western journeys in the Galway Archaeological & Historical Society journal which can be accessed on JSTOR.
Throughout the twentieth century and up to the present botanical illustration remains a vibrant medium personified by artists such as Wendy Walsh, Susan Sex and Raymond Piper. Among the works illustrated by Walsh and held by the library is the Irish Florilegium: wild and garden plants of Ireland series, one of a number of collaborative projects undertaken with Charles Nelson. Others include Flowers of Mayo, Nelson and Walsh’s superb interpretation of Dr. Patrick Browne's Fasciculus plantarum Hiberniae from 1788. Walsh's characteristic attention to detail is visible in this illustration from the Irish Florilegium.
In 2008 Susan Sex and Brendan Sayers continued in the honourable tradition of high quality illustrated botanical publications aimed at the amateur observer when they produced Ireland’s Wild Orchids: a field guide. Though published using paper that would survive exposure in the field the orchid illustrations the vibrancy of the detailed illustrations remains undiminished.
In 2020 the National Gallery of Ireland celebrated three centuries of Irish botanical art with an exhibition entitled Drawn from Nature .
The website includes some illustrations from the exhibition and a link to an illustrated talk on material in the National Botanic Gardens library,
Enjoy the summer plants