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Please note that the images for (g) and (h) are the wrong way around in the catalogue.
NATURAL HISTORY ILLUSTRATION IN 18TH CENTURY CALCUTTA
Although executed in India by Indian artists, the following drawings belong to the European tradition of Florilegia which first appeared in the late 16th Century and achieved its most perfect form with Les Roses by Pierre Joseph Redouté (1817-1824). A host of expensive and fully illustrated books appeared of which Robert Thornton's The Sexual System of Linnaeus and The Temple of Flora (1799-1807) is the best known.
In 1786 the idea of creating a botanical garden at Sibpur on the West bank of the Hoogly outside Calcutta was first mooted to the Bengal Government by Colonel Robert Kyd, whose purpose was to develop alternative food sources in times of famine. Sir Joseph Banks, the famous British botanist, was approached for his views on the subject and commented:
'a colony such as this, blessed with the advantages of Soil, Climate, Population so eminently above its Mother Country, seems by nature intended for the purpose of supplying her fabrics with raw materials'. By 1790 the inventory stood at over 4,000 plants including a Mulberry tree, and four years later, more than 2,000 plants had been despatched to other parts of India as well as to England, the West Indies and St. Helena.
The other forum for botany in Calcutta was the Asiatic Society, founded in January 1784 by the jurist and orientalist Sir William Jones (1746-1794). The purpose of the society was to research: 'into the history and antiquities, arts, sciences, and literature of Asia...the nurse of science...abounding in natural wonders.'
The Asiatic Society was vital for the exchange of information and drawing. The members of the Society read like a roll-call of the principal botanists of the City: The Marquess of Wellesley, William Cowper, John Fleming, Francis Buchanan, Thomas Henry Colebrooke and James Hare were all members - in addition to William Roxburgh (fig. 1), who was to play such an important role in the development of botanical illustration in Calcutta.
After the death of Kyd in 1793, Roxburgh became Superintendant of the Sibpur botanical garden and it flourished under his stewardship. Roxburgh had spent the previous twelve years running the Company's garden at Samalkot, over 300 miles north of Madras on the Coromandel Coast and brought the benefit of this rich experience with him. Roxburgh was probably the first British botanist to commission native Indian artists to produce watercolours of the indigenous plants. At Samalkot he had commissioned two Indian artists to execute 700 hundred drawings of the plants. These drawings formed the basis of Roxburgh's Plants of the Coast of Coromandel (1795-1819), a lavish production of 300 illustrations and descriptions of plants from the Eastern Coast of Madras.
This project had been backed by Sir Joseph Banks, who persuaded the East India Company to fund it and his recommendations to the directors were to prove significant for the development of botanical illustration in India. He advised that 'commercial utility' should not be the sole criterion for a plant's inclusion - a principal that was to allow the description of all manner of exotica for its own sake.
The model for the design of the plates was to be taken from William Curtis's Flora Londiniensis (1777-1828), a book which combined 'elegance with perspicuity' (fig. 2). He was determined that botanical drawings should be attractive as well as scientifically useful.
The Coast of Coromandel (fig. 3) became a benchmark and model for all subsequent botanical illustrations executed under the aegis of the East India Company. The current collection of drawings owe their format to Roxburgh and Curtis's orginal design: they are all of approximately the same size, 22 x 15 inches, and in each case the plants are generally life-size and occupy the entire page, with additional details and dissections below the illustrations, they are also all inscribed in a beautiful copperplate just like their prototypes. Roxburgh continued to employ native artists and by the time he left Calcutta in 1813 he had accumulated 2,542 botanical drawings, today known as the Roxburgh Icones and still to be found in the Indian Botanic Gardens in Calcutta while another set was returned to Banks for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Following Roxburgh's example in the field of botany, it became standard practise for wealthy individuals to commission copies of the Icones. Much of the collection amassed by the Marquis of Wellesley (1760-1842, and Governor-General of India from 1797-1805) and now in the British Library, are copies of the Icones. James Hare had at least 1,200 copies, while some of the 1,825 drawings from Dr. John Flemings's (1747-1829) collection now in the British Museum are also copied from the Icones. Other celebrated visitors to Calcutta such as the Viscount Valentia (see lot 10), exchanged drawings with Wellesley and may have commissioned copies of their own.
Although reliant on the Curtis Format, the present collection of drawings are not copied from the Icones, they are actually noticeably more detailed and more carefully drawn than both the Wellesley copies or the versions at Kew.
The present collection comes from a group that included some interesting selections from the mangrove family so that it is tempting to try to identify the patron through the plant selection. Many East India Company men were interested in botany at this time and developed gardens and kept private menageries (see also lot 7 for a note on the Impeys). The inclusion of a group of drawings of mangroves in this selection has led to the suggestion that the patron might be identified as one Richard Goodlad, a senior merchant in the East India Company, who had introduced three mangrove species into the Calcutta Garden, and who settled near the Sunderbans, approximately 30 miles south-east of Calcutta in Baruipur in 1793. A painting of Goodlad's substantial mansion is in the collection of the Victoria Memorial, Calcutta. Goodlad was a member of the Asiatic Society from 1799-1805 thus putting him at the centre of botanic activity in Calcutta.
A number of the drawings in the original collection were inscribed in a hand that has been identified by Henry Noltie as Francis Buchanan MD (1762-1829) who joined the Bengal Medical Service in 1794 and remained in that position until his retirement in 1815. On the basis of the watermarks (the majority of which are Whatman and some of which are dated 1794) the drawings were probably executed before 1805. On the basis of the watermarks and inscriptions it is therefore likely that Buchanan inscribed the drawings while he was working for Wellesley at his private menagerie at Barrackpore, fourteen miles north of Calcutta.
These drawings were originally in the library of Edward Smith Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby (1775-1851) (fig. 4), possibly acquired directly from the original patron. Lord Derby was president of the Linnean Society (1828-1834) and the London Zoological Society (1831-1851), and was a key figure in natural history circles. His Collection also included important works by Edward Lear (1812-1888) and world class examples of the work of the greatest botanical artists including Georg Dionysius Ehret (1710-1770), Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) and the American ornithologist and bird artist John James Audubon (1785-1851).
Lord Derby built an Aviary at Knowsley to accommodate his collection of birds and animals which he aimed to collect, classify and breed.