Elise Nees von Esenbeck (b.1842)
A collection of original drawings of Orchids in five albums. [Breslau: 1865-1866]. 2° (563 x 395mm). 137 drawings of orchids (474 x 303mm. approx.), black chalk and bodycolour on slate-grey prepared paper, mounted recto and verso, many initialled "E.N." and inscribed "n[ach] d[er] Natur" and dated, each with an inscription identifying the plants by their Latin binomials, giving a country, or place of origin and citing an authority for the attribution. Original near-uniform cloth, blocked in gilt and blind (one album with splits to joints, a second with small tear to head and foot of spine), all contained within a single modern cloth solander box with morocco label on spine.
A FINE AND EXTENSIVE COLLECTION OF DELICATELY RENDERED DRAWINGS OF ORCHIDS. Elise Nees von Esenbeck was born in 1842 a talented member of a family with a flair for botany. Her love of flowers would no doubt have been encouraged and stimulated by her grandfather, Christian Nees von Esenbeck (1776-1858), one of Germany's greatest 19th-century botanists, and her great-uncle Theodor Friedrich Nees von Esenbeck (1787-1837), who was Inspector of the Leiden Botanic Garden, Director of the Bonn University Botanic Garden and author of Plantae officinales, published in 6 volumes between 1821-1833.
Elise, clearly both a keen observer of nature and a highly talented artist, drew upon the wide variety of plants available to her in the botanical gardens at Breslau: the gardens that her grandfather had helped to nurture. The geographical scope of the drawings is enormous with examples that were native to Guatemala, Mexico, China, India, Surinam, Brazil, Java, Nepal, Australia, Panama, Jamaica, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Assam, Venezuela, Madagascar, Ceylon, Peru, Costa Rica, Caracas, Cuba and Singapore. Her work was exhibited in Berlin, Dresden, Munich and Antwerp, and also in the United States, where in Chicago she was awarded a prize for her orchid painting. This fine collection falls firmly into the period of the greatest interest in orchids, plant hunters were scouring the tropical regions of the world, amateur and professional grwoers alike vied with each other to be the first to get the most recent import to flower, Warner, Lindley, Reichenbach were all in the midst of publishing works illustrated with plates of almost mechanical accuracy. Elise's drawings, whilst they are botanically correct, also recall the age of enlightenment, the 18th-century, the era of the flower portrait, the era of Dietsch and Ehret, a time when the beauty of the composition was as important as the accuracy of the botany. (5)