EDWARDS, John (1742-1815). A Collection of Flowers drawn after Nature, & disposed in an Ornamental & Picturesque Manner. [London: 1783-1789].
2o (425 x 324 mm). Engraved throughout. Decorative pictorial title with oval paper lettering slip pasted in place and manuscript 'imprint' dated 4 January 1789, 80 FINE HAND-COLORED ENGRAVED PLATES, PRINTED AND COLORED BY JOHN EDWARDS, INCLUDING NINE PLATES IN COUNTERPROOF. (10 plates with some pale marginal dampstaining, plate 40 with color smudge at center of subject, plate 80 trimmed closely with partial loss of plate number.) Contemporary half calf, marbled boards (leather and endpapers renewed). Provenance: Thomas Townsend (bookplate dated 1804); Violet de Largle? (pencil inscription dated 1932).
A FINE SET OF THESE PLATES, INCLUDING NINE IN COUNTERPROOF: A 'SUPERB AND VERY RARE WORK BY A GREAT ARTIST, WHOSE CRAFTSMANSHIP IS EQUAL TO THE BEST OF THE 18TH CENTURY': (Dunthorne). This work seems to have been published at various times in various forms: most authorities agree that the work should comprise a title and 79 plate (Dunthorne calls for 77), most give 1801 as the date of publication on the title (Henrey gives 1795) but a number of copies have appeared at auction dated 1784. The present copy contains 80 plates and is dated 1789 on the title. The plates fall into two main categories. There are 10 plates of "designs" with a floral theme, and 69 plates of more straight-forward botanical subjects, either single sprays or small bouquets, often tied with ribbon. 34 of the plates show the subjects within ovals defined by a bodycolor border, 42 have simple lined borders. The three largest plates have no borders and include the work's masterpiece, plate 24 Eastern Poppy; this plate alone justifies Dunthorne's assertion. In the present copy, nine plates are found in counterproof: 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 28. According to American Book Prices Current, no other copy with plates in counterproof has been sold at auction in at least 50 years.
"The decorative nature of A Collection of Flowers, evident in the flower studies, emerges even more clearly in the numerous monochrome plates, in which classicizing elements--tripods, urns, vases and architectonic structures--appear in fanciful compositions together with flower garlands, birds, gardening tools and elements from the arts, all hand coloured in bright hues. Thus John Edwards depicted the natural world from the perspective of the artist, reveling in its infinite variety of forms and colours, in a vision of Neoclassical elegance with a lingering trace of the Rococo" (Tomasi). Edwards, one of the most notable English botanical artists of the 18th century, exhibited widely in London between 1763 and 1812, and was also well-known as a designer for the calico-printing industry. Dunthorne 105; Great Flower Books (1990) p.93; Henrey III. 673; Nissen BBI 579; L.Tongiorgi Tomasi An Oak Spring Flora 64.