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Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820)
Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820)

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Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820)

Banks' Florilegium. A publication in thirty-four parts of seven hundred and thirty-eight copperplate engravings of plants collected on Captain James Cook's first voyage round the world in H.M.S. Endeavour 1768-1771. London: Alecto Historical Editions in association with the British Museum (Natural History), 1980-1990. 35 solander boxes (including 'Supplement'), broadsheet 2° (785 x 606mm) and one volume 'Catalogue', 2° (550 x 376mm). 738 copper-engraved plates in titled window mounts, colour printed à la poupée in up to 17 colours with additional watercolour touches from the original plates by Daniel MacKenzie, G. Sibelius, Gabriel Smith et al. after Sydney Parkinson, Frederick Polydore Nodder, John Frederick Miller, James Miller, John Cleverly and Thomas Burgis, the 'Supplement' with 5 copper-engraved plates in titled window mounts, colour printed à la poupée in up to 17 colours with additional watercolour touches to the plate from plates made by The Master Engravers of the Bank of England, after the 18th-century proofs pulled from the 5 stolen plates, the 'Catalogue' with 8 copper-engraved uncoloured duplicate plates. The 'Florilegium' and 'Supplement' in 101 original cloth-backed portfolios contained within 35 dark-green, cloth-covered solander boxes by G. Ryder and Co. Ltd, the 'Catalogue' bound in dark-green morocco-backed boards, top edges gilt (slight unobtrusive marking on spine).

THE FIRST COMPLETE EDITION OF THE ENGRAVINGS AFTER SYDNEY PARKINSON'S MAGNIFICENT DRAWINGS, MADE IN THE COURSE OF CAPTAIN COOK'S FIRST VOYAGE, DURING WHICH BANKS COLLECTED OVER 800 PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN SPECIMENS. This number 28 of 116 numbered copies.

Banks' ambition to publish the drawings made by Sydney Parkinson during the Endeavour's circumnavigation was never realised, due to the reasons referred to in the footnote to the previous lot (Illustrations of Australian Plants ... ), although some 743 plates after drawings by Parkinson and others were engraved under Banks' supervision by 18 engravers, over a period of 13 years. On Banks' death, these plates were bequeathed to the British Museum, where they remain. The first publication of a substantial selection of the plates was in 1900-1905, when monochrome lithographic plates of the Australian flora were made after the original plates, and published by the British Museum as Illustrations of Australian Plants ... (London: 1900-1905, lot 3), reproducing 320 of the 743 images. This was followed in 1973 by Captain Cook's Florilegium, edited by Wilfrid Blunt and W.T. Stearn (London: 1973), which contained 42 plates pulled from the original plates and printed in black ink, and was published in a limited edition of 100 copies by the Lion and Unicorn Press; of these 100 copies, the first 10 contained 42 plates, and the remainder 30.

In 1979, following successful trial printings in colour of the plates, it was agreed that Alecto Historical Editions and The British Museum (Natural History) would jointly publish the full set of 738 plates, colour printed à la poupée (i.e. by applying the colour to the plate with a cotton ball, and then adding further colour if necessary with a brush). The first volume was issued in 1980, with the final 'Catalogue' volume appearing in 1990. The appearance of the final volume, and the completion of this most ambitious artistic and scientific enterprise, was described thus in the The Book Collector: 'It is now just over ten years since the great scheme to print the Florilegium began: ten years later, and 100 sets of 738 plates, each print individually coloured, have come into existence. It is a triumph on many scores: a triumph of imagination, to conceive such an enterprise; a triumph of aesthetic sensibility, to realize that plates originally intended to be printed in black could be rendered in colour with such magical beauty, yet truth to nature; a triumph of technical skill, to restore the tarnished plates and print them with unerring precision, maintaining the same high standard from first to last [...]; a triumph, above all of tenacity to bring such a colossal enterprise [...] to a final successful conclusion' (p.9).

Of the 116 sets of Banks' Florilegium printed, 3 were printers' proof sets (of which number 1 is at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), 3 were to be used for exhibition purposes, 10 were hors commerce (of which number 7 was split, when 120 plates from it were sold by Sotheby's, London in 1988 to benefit the Banks Alecto Endeavour Fellowship, and numbers 9 and 10 went to The British Museum, Natural History), and 100 were for sale (of which 43 went to institutional collections worldwide and 19 parts of set number 83 were sold by Sotheby's, New York, 12 December 1995, lot 195). Therefore, at most, only 68 complete sets remain in private hands. Christie's are grateful to Mr J.G. Studholme and Ms Henrietta Pearson of Alecto Historical Editions for kindly providing this information.

This set is offered in four French walnut cabinets, each fitted with eight sliding horizontal shelves to contain the solander boxes, and 28 gilt frames with removable backs to display the prints, commissioned by the original subscriber for the Florilegium. Also included in the lot are Banks' Florilegium Prospectus and a file of related correspondence. Cf. 'Banks's Florilegium' in The Book Collector volume XXXVIII number 1 (London: 1989) pp.9-26; cf. J.A. Diment et al. Catalogue of the Natural History Drawings commissioned by Joseph Banks on the Endeavour Voyage 1768-1771 held in the British Museum (Natural History) ... Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Historical Series volume 11 (complete) [... volume 12 (complete)], part I [...II] (London: 1984-1987). (36)
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