EHRET, GEORG DIONYSIUS. Plantae et papiliones rariores depictae et aeri incisae. London, 1748 (-1759) [Title and date (1748) at the head of first plate, latest publication date, 1759, on plate 15].
16 leaves, large folio, 525 x 326 mm., disbound and loose in modern quarter morocco folding case, plates 1, 10 and 11 with small repaired tears in lower margins, a few minor nicks at edges and plate 12 with a creased margin, some showthrough and a little paper discoloration throughout.
FIRST EDITION. 15 hand-colored engraved plates by and after Ehret, plate 15 with a facing page of text, "The history and analysis of the parts of the Jessamne, which flowered in the curious garden of R. Warner, Esq; at Woodford, July 1758", an uncolored engraved vignette of the Rondeletia (70 x 112mm.) by Ehret at the foot of this page, all plates but two on laid paper bearing the watermark of STRASBOURG LILY with "G" and maker's countermark I. TAYLOR, plate 4 on unwatermarked heavy wove paper, the letterpress on laid paper marked IV.
THE ONLY ENGRAVED BOOK PRODUCED AND PUBLISHED BY EHRET HIMSELF. Ehret was born in Heidelberg in 1710, and became a gardener early in life, practising drawing in his spare time. His artistic abilities led him to the service of a Regensburg banker named Leskenkohl who had commissioned him to copy the plates in van Rheede tot Draakestein, Hortis indicus malabaricus (1678-1693). It was during his years in Regensburg that Ehret's drawings came to the attention of the physician and botanist Christoph Jakob Trew, who asked him "to paint for him as many plants as he could on large fine paper" (Henrey, p. 63). Trew remained a patron and friend of Ehret for the rest of his life, and they eventually collaborated on Trew's magnum opus Plantae selectae (1750-1773), which confirmed Ehret's reputation as a master of botanical illustration. After travelling throughout Europe, Ehret emigrated to England in the late 1730s, where he established himself as a teacher of plant drawing and botany to the aristocracy. He married Philip Miller's daughter in 1738, and engravings after his drawings are found in Miller's Figures of Plants (1755-60).
Trew had planned to publish a book of engravings based on his collection of Ehret's drawings, but the project was delayed and Ehret, growing impatient, decided to publish his own book of engravings, containing "newly introduced species which had rarely if ever been previously represented" (Calman). The Plantae et papiliones rariores has no title-page or text other than a caption title at the top of the first plate, and engraved Latin descriptions of the plants. (English text appears in trompe l'oeil on plate 8). The letterpress leaf accompanying the Jasminum plate 15 appears to have been published independently of the engravings. Ehret's "approach was a fine compromise between that of the artist and that of the scientist: he did not slavishly imitate what he saw nor did he allow his feeling for colour and design to distract him unduly from the fundamentals of plant structure. Artists and botanists alike, therefore, join in praising his work... he has... his own particular qualities-- a sureness of touch, vigour of handling, and an unerring instinct for design" (Blunt & Stearn, p. 163).
The work was published in parts by subscription, subscribers including Sir Hans Sloane and the Duchess of Portland; Ehret dedicated plate 14 to the latter, who had the Ginger plant cultivated in her greenhouse in September 1754 (cf. Calman). Stafleu & Cowan record the publication in 1761-1762 of three supplementary plates, citing one known copy, at the Arnold Arboretum.
A CLASSIC EHRET RARITY, not in the Plesch or de Belder collections. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society copy (sold, Sotheby's New York, 1 October 1980, lot 116) and the present copy are the only two copies recorded by ABPC since 1965. Only two copies are recorded in American institutions: Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University, and the Library of the United States Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C.
Blunt & Stearn, pp. 164-166; Calman, Georg Ehret, Flower Painter Extraordinary, 93-94; Dunthorne 109; Great Flower Books, p. 93; Henrey 150; Nissen BBI 583; Pritzel 2641; Stafleu & Cowan TL2 1644.
Provenance: The Art-in-Trades Club, memorial gift plate -- Harry Wearne, bookpate -- Unidentified consignor (sale, Sotheby's New York, 10 June 1994, lot 62).