Extra-illustrated Mark Catesby's The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands and the volume of individual watercolors and prints assembled by Peter Collinson from the early 1740s through 1767

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extra-illustrated  first Edition of Mark Catesby's (1683-1749) The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands and the volume of individual watercolors and prints assembled by Peter Collinson from the early 1740s through 1767

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The Opulent &
The Curious
PETER COLLINSON AND THE
ART OF “THE GREAT SEED EXCHANGE”

 

“through the laudable application of a few persons only,
many kinds of American plants, and particularly forest
trees and shrubs, have been procured and raised from
thence; which, through hitherto principally in the possession
of the opulent and the curious, they, as it is hoped
will for the benefit of their country be excited to encourage
their propagation and increase, that both Faunus and Flora
may be consulted, as well as the benefit of our woods,
as for the ornament of our gardens. A small spot of land
in America has, within less than half a century, furnished
England with a greater variety of trees than has been procured
from all other parts of the world for more than a
thousand years.”
- John Ryall
introduction to Mark Catesby’s Hortus Britanno-Americus (1767)

 

Introduction:

 In the introduction to Mark Catesby’s posthumous book on British-American horticulture, Hortus Britanno- Americus (1767), John Ryal wrote, “through the laudable application of a few persons only, many kinds of American plants, and particularly forest trees and shrubs, have been procured and raised from thence; which, through hitherto principally in the possession of the opulent and the curious, they, as it is hoped will for the benefit of their country be excited to encourage their propagation and increase, that both Faunus and Flora may be consulted, as well as the benefit of our woods, as for the ornament of our gardens. A small spot of land in America has, within less than half a century, furnished England with a greater variety of trees than has been procured from all other parts of the world for more than a thousand years.”

It was evident even in the 18th-century that Peter Collinson, and his circle, the “opulent and curious” gentleman- botanists, and a “small spot of land” in America, Bartram’s garden, were responsible for the botanical wealth of Britain. The Peter Collinson collection of Mark Catesby’s Natural History and commonplace volume of watercolors encapsulates the visual story of colonial natural history, gives insight to the key participants, provides a firsthand account of the sharing of both seeds and specimens, and the scientific insight gained and shared amongst them. It is witness to the transition from America the wild, chaotic, and stormy, to refined, exotic, and artistically picturesque.

The collection consists of two halves of a whole, simply described as an extra-illustrated copy of Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands and the volume of individual watercolors and prints assembled by Peter Collinson from the early 1740s through 1767. However, they are far more complex and rich. Together these works are widely considered one of the most important archives relating to this circle of collectors, natural historians, artists, and garden owners in London during the first half of the 18th-century. It is a precious contemporary record of intertwined horticultural and artistic relationships with no parallel in the United States. Present are some of the most exceptional botanical drawings and prints by Mark Catesby, William Bartram, George Edwards, and Georg Ehret, annotated by Peter Collinson and others. Collinson’s curation was of immense importance to scholars of eighteenth-century American and British culture, including the history of science, gardens, landscape, collecting, and natural history art and illustration.

To this time, the Knowsley Collinson collection has been studied piecemeal, images addressed have been brilliantly described by significant scholars in the field. However, because of limited access to this books and lack of a proper image database, the collection compiled by Collinson has not been thoroughly researched as a whole nor has in-depth analyses of imagery in context to their patron been undertaken. Here, for the first time, the unique beauty of these coveted images are unveiled to reveal intimate details behind each petal and feather to unfurl the history and context of their importance. When viewed as an entity, we gain insight into the relationship between methods of species procurement, the relationship between patrons and artists, and the 18th-century British taste for the exotic. It contains watercolors of species of American origin as well as other exceptionally early depictions of botanical and zoological subjects from all over the world, notably type specimens from Collinson’s and other significant garden menageries such as those housed by Sir Hans Sloane, Charles Wager, and Lord Petre.

With this initiative in mind, I arranged this catalogue contemplating its many facets and sum of its parts. The catalogue begins with an overview of the provenance of this grouping, including a full biography of Peter Collinson and his heirs, through to the most recent owner, the 19th Earl of Derby. Followed by biographical details on the primary artists. Then every image is analyzed independently or, where significant research warrants it, may be grouped together to further evaluate on the significance as a grouping or to compare similar performances. Available primary and secondary sources were consulted and cited in the notes and bibliography. My initial research should not be considered comprehensive; instead, consider it an open door by which future research may continue.

The collection presented here made for the “opulent and the curious,” is in itself opulent and curious. It is a glimpse into the world of elite possession of rare and desirably showy ornamental flowering plants as well as the exotic curiosities of British colonial empire. The British gentleman need not toil on his own wild American land; he curated it on his picturesque parcel of land free from Natives, free from snakes, and free from political upheaval.

The importance of this collection cannot be overstated. The present work by Mark Catesby, William Bartram, George Edwards, and Georg Ehret form the keystones of American botanical and ornithological illustration. It reinforces the importance of Philadelphia for the nascent study of botany and ornithology in America, which provided the primary source documents for Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon. Without the work of the early artists, the later would never have succeeded.

- Alison Petretti Curator, natural history watercolors

 

THE PROVENANCE
PETER COLLINSON (1694-1768)
CHARLES STREYNSHAM COLLINSON (1753-1834)
AYLMER BOURKE LAMBERT (1761-1842)
EDWARD SMITH STANLEY, 13TH EARL OF DERBY (1775-1851)
EDWARD RICHARD WILLIAM STANLEY, THE 19TH EARL OF DERBY (B.1962-)

 

 

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