John Edwards (1742-1815)
The British Herbal, containing one hundred plates of the most beautiful and scarce flowers and useful medicinal plants which blow in the open air of Great Britain, accurately coloured from nature with their botanical characters, and a short account of their cultivation... London: printed for the author, sold by J. Edmonson and J. Walker, 1770. 2° (457 x 282mm). 100 hand-coloured engraved plates by J. Edwards, Ferner, W. Darling and I. Fougeron after J. Edwards. (Occasional light browning or offsetting.) Contemporary speckled calf, spine in eight compartments with raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others with repeat decoration built up from small tools (neatly recornered and rebacked with old spine laid down), modern dark-green cloth box, dark-green morocco spine label.
A FINE COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION, SECOND ISSUE OF THIS 'OUTSTANDING FOLIO VOLUME' (Henrey), by one the 'most famous English artists to specialize in the genre of flower painting' (L. Tongiorgi Tomasi). In the beautifully designed plates Edwards has sought to exploit the full decorative potential of his subjects, and in the process has produced a series of charming flower portraits that are much more than mere botanical specimens. Edwards was an engraver, printer, flower painter, designer for the textile industry and his work was exhibited at the Royal Academy, and at the Society of Artists, of which he was a member.
The first issue of the present work was published in monthly parts in 1769-1770 under the title Edwards's British Herbal, the present work is the second issue, and it was reissued again in 1775 as A select collection of hundred plates. 'In its graceful illustrations the artist allowed his imagination free rein, feeling no need to consult a botanist or to tailor his drawings to the exacting requirements of science' (L. Tongiorgi Tomasi. An Oak Spring Flora p. 246). The work is an herbal in name only, with text compiled from the descriptions in the works of Edwards' contemporaries, and ordered according to Edwards' innate design sense rather than Tournefort's or Linnaeus' classification. By the third issue Edwards clearly felt that the pretence had gone on long enough and the title was changed to the more accurately named A select collection of one hundred plates. Dunthorne 104; Great Flower Books (1990) p.93; Henrey II, p.17 and III, 675; Nissen BBI 78; Pritzel 2620; Stafleu 1624; cf. L. Tongiorgi Tomasi An Oak Spring Flora 64.