Antique Illustrations of Victoria
from the library of the 
 Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

by Pat Clifford
RBGE Senior Horticulturist

Photos of original images by Lynsey Wilson, Official RBGE Photographer
Click images to enlarge
 
     


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I've trawled our world-famous library for illustrations of Victoria and found some interesting ones.

These are from the William Hooker monograph Description of the Victoria Regia, or Great Water-Lily of South America, London: Reeve Brothers, 1847, The hand-coloured lithographic plates are by Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892).

 
Fitch, one of the most prolific horticultural artists of the Victorian era, was born in Glasgow and began producing work for Hooker, at the time professor of Botany at Glasgow University. Hooker was soon appointed Director of RBG, Kew, and Fitch followed him to London, becoming the sole artist for official Kew publications. Over the period of his lifetime he produced more than 10,000 drawings, 3,000 of which were for Curtis Botanical Magazine.


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< Walter Hood Fitch

This is another Fitch illustration taken from Curtis Botanical Magazine 1847. >


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The most amazing find, hidden in the archives, was a signed original copy of the distinguished John Fisk Allen and William Sharp work VICTORIA REGIA: OR THE GREAT WATER LILY OF AMERICA, Boston, 1854. The librarians didn't realise the copy was signed. The dedication page from the book was to Caleb Cope, who first got the Victoria to flower in the States in 1851.
     


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William Sharp (1803-1875) emigrated to Boston from England in the late 1830s and produced the first chromolithograph in the States in 1840. His career culminated in this work which was described as "printed colors with a delicacy of execution and technical brilliance never before achieved in the United States." 
     

   

 

     

 Text of VICTORIA REGIA, OR THE GREAT WATER LILY OF AMERICA.
Complete - For shorter download, Part 1 - Part 2 - Plates & Descriptions

 

This was the earliest illustration I found, dated 1839, artist unknown. The Floricultural Magazine was edited by Robert Marnock.


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Marnock (1800 - 1889) was one of the outstanding horticulturalists and garden designers of the 19th century and was considered by his contemporaries to be the best exponent of the gardenesque school of landscape gardening. (Wikipedia) 

An interesting page about Marnock and his affiliation with Sheffield's Botanical Gardens is here.

 

This last one is somewhat of a curiousity. Painted in the mid-1800's by English artist John Gould (1804-1881), it appears to depict short-tailed hummingbirds trying to pollinate a Victoria. Gould was actually an ornithologist who worked closely with Darwin, so I'm assuming artistic license was liberally applied. He could have taken inspiration from earlier illustrations of Victoria and added his beloved hummingbirds.
     
I don't know when it was proven that beetles were the sole pollinators of Victoria, but we can probably assume it was long after this was painted. I suppose hummingbirds were as good a guess as anything. Still an exquisite painting.


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