BERTUCH, Friedrich Justin (1747-1822). ORIGINAL BOTANICAL DRAWINGS IN WATERCOLOUR for Bilderbuch für Kinder. [Weimar and Gotha: 1790-1843].
4° (261 x 183mm). 100 original drawings in watercolour, bodycolour, and pen-and-ink over black chalk preparation depicting over 180 specimens of pines, cacti, tobacco, fruit trees, camelia (with 2 butterflies), mushrooms, lotus, sumac, poppy, aloe, rasperry, coffee, palms, etc., on paper watermarked OKER and counter-marked with a horn, most with contemporary MS identification in German and Latin, 3 leaves with sketches only, 8 leaves of manuscript notes on plants. (Some light staining and spotting, 2 leaves loose and frayed at end, a few minor marginal tears, light ink smudges on a few leaves.) Contemporary paper boards (slightly worn at extremities).
AN UNRECORDED AND APPARENTLY UNIQUE ALBUM of original botanical drawings made for Bertuch's great 12-volume Bilderbuch für Kinder. The importance of the Bilderbuch went well beyond its stated aim of being an amusing and pleasing as well as instructive natural history for children, and was truly a product of the Enlightenment. Bertuch wished to reproduce the magic of discovery, and so mixed the 1185 engravings of plants, animals, shells, minerals, volcanoes, technical inventions, in a utopian chaos, in order that a child could encounter afresh the wonders of the natural world at the turn of every page. The descriptive text was purposely kept to a minimum in order not to detract from the visual stimuli, and it was written not in the language of scientific discourse, Latin, but in German and French, and later also in Italian and English. Bertuch envisioned his Bilderbuch as being as important to the nursery as a cradle, a doll, and a hobby horse. It was the first natural history to combine didactic, aesthetic and practical concerns for children.
The present album contains botanical watercolours, representing over half of the 178 botanical illustrations in the Bilderbuch. They correspond to about 89 plates, all in volumes I-VI. Very few of the engravings are attributed to individual artists, but of the present drawings, 3 are attributed on the engraved plate to Henriette Westermayr, 2 to her husband Conrad, one to F. Götz and one to C. Ermer. Given these attributions and their documented prolific involvement in the Bilderbuch, it is tempting to see the majority of the drawings as the work of the Westermayrs. Both Henriette and Conrad were celebrated artists in Weimar, where they were involved with Bertuch's Kunstcomptoir and had friends in common with Bertuch, such as Wieland and Goethe. They moved to Hanau in 1807, so that it may be more than coincidence that the present botanical drawings correspond to the earliest 6 volumes of the Bilderbuch, when Henriette and Conrad were still resident in Weimar and active in the project. The artwork for the Bilderbuch in general was overseen by Georg Melchior Kraus, together with J.H. Lips, and Bertuch engaged young artists at the Weimar Freies Zeichen-Institut, which he helped establish in 1776, as well as established artists such as C. Ermer, Th. Götz, C. Graf, C. Horny, Fr. Kaiser, and W. Waitz. The artists were able to consult libraries in Weimar and Jena as well as Bertuch's private library, and many living specimens, included those procured abroad, could be found in Bertuch's own extensive garden.
The drawings show a fairly advanced stage in the preparation of the Bilderbuch, with most plants drawn together on the same page as they appear in the engravings. A few alterations took place between the drawing and engraving, usually consisting of the addition of a detail view, such as the inside of a seed, and in one case two plants which are drawn separately have been placed together on one plate; in other aspects of design and lay-out the drawings are extremely close to the finished plates. There is some correspondence between quires in the album and the location of the plates in the Bilderbuch, for example, the first quire has drawings which appear in volume III, the fourth quire has drawings in volume II, etc. This suggests that the quires were used as models for various volumes then reassembled in the present album.
Friedrich Justin Bertuch was poet, playwright, translator, publisher, and naturalist, as well as immensely successful early German capitalist. He was a Freemason in the Amelia lodge in Weimar, a Knight of the German order, and one of the richest men in Germany, at one time employing approximately one-sixth of the population of Weimar. He acted as tutor to the sons of Freiherr Ludwig Henrich Bachoff von Echt and remained in ducal service until 1786 when he returned to private life and the running of his business, Industrie-Comptoir. He had earlier published with Christoph Wieland the leading German literary periodical, Der teutsche Merkur, before founding his remarkable publishing concern, Verlag des Industrie-Comptoirs, which published the first German fashion periodical, Journal des Luxus und der Moden, the Bilderbuch, and other innovative series.
Owing to his own literary pursuits (his translation of Cervantes's Don Quixote remained current for decades) and his involvement with Der teutsche Merkur, Bertuch was acquainted with the great German writers of the time. His closest relationship was with Wieland, who considered Bertuch almost as a son. Bertuch supported Schiller financially in his early years, but a lasting friendship did not develop, while Herder openly did not like Bertuch. The relationship between Bertuch and Goethe was more complex, with many common interests and situations binding the two men, not least their love of nature and gardens.
Of all Bertuch's many interests and talents, botany was his greatest love. He published works in the field, he was a corresponding member of the Horticultural Society of London, and it was due to a shared love of gardens which caused Bertuch and Goethe to first pledge their friendship in 1775 and led to their collaboratively drawing up plans for the Weimar Schlosspark. It is not fanciful then to imagine Bertuch's own keen interest in the botanical illustrations for his Bilderbuch and hence in the original botanical drawings in this album.
LITERATURE: Siglinde Hohenstein, Friedrich Justin Bertuch (1747-1822) bewundert, beneidet, umstritten (Mainz: Gutenberg-Museum, 1985) and her 1989 biography of Bertuch.