22 March 2000
Clara Maria Pope (circa 1768-1838)
Paeonia lactiflora (Red Peony)
signed and dated 'Clara Maria Pope. 1816:'
pencil and watercolour, heightened with bodycolour and gum arabic, on Bristol paper
22¼ x 17.1/8 in. (565 x 435 mm).
This large watercolour of the double peony, probably executed life-size, is probably an earlier version of a watercolour by Pope of the same subject in the Natural History Museum in London. The drawing (dated 1821) is one of a series of eleven by Pope illustrating species and varieties of the genus Paeonia (all dated between 1821 and 1822). This example shows minor differences in its composition, where Pope has decided to illustrate a large additional flower head, depicted from the front (see Blunt. p.247, pl.87 and the front cover of dust-jacket of Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's Peonies The Imperial Flower).
This watercolour is a spectacular example of Pope's ability; as Blunt writes "She had a sense of the dramatic, and knew how to paint in the grand manner" (p.246). In his Flower and Fruit Prints, Dunthorne writes that Pope "should be included amongst the great botanical draughtsmen" (p.40).
Clara Maria Pope, came from an artistic background - her father was the amateur artist Jared Leigh (1724-1769), her first husband was the artist Francis Wheatley (1747-1801), and her second husband the Irish actor and artist Alexander Pope (1763-1835). She started her career as a miniature painter and under the instruction of her first husband painted genre scenes in watercolour. She became a painting teacher and her pupils included Princess Sophie of Gloucester and the Duchess of St.Albans. Pope is best remembered for the plates she contributed to Samuel Curtis's Beauties of Flora, 1806-1820, and his magnificent Monograph on the genus Camellia, 1819.
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