The distinct style of color plate botanical and ornithological illustrations harkens back to the mid-1800′s – an era marked by strong interest in naturalism and the grassroots of conservancy. Much literary and artistic expression from this time leaned heavily towards Transcendentalism, a movement which sought simplicity, emphasized the importance of self-reliance and finding holiness in nature. Not surprisingly, much of the illustration from this period features intricate, vivid portraits of plants and animals documented for scientific purposes and the curiosity of many who were themselves unable to visit the habitats of these species.
The Vilmorin-Andrieux Company of late 18th and early 19th century France began as a collaboration between Philippe Victoire de Vilmorin – a grain and plant merchant – and his father-in-law, Pierre Andrieux, Botanist to the King.
In their commercial catalogs, the Vilmorin company went above and beyond catalog artwork typical of the time. They followed this success (and built on their growing reputation) with a series of journal publications featuring botanical and horticultural information and illustrations.
At its peak, the Vilmorin company produced Album Vilmorin Les Plantes potageres (The Vegetable Garden) which required the assistance of 15 commissioned artists, including the well-known Elisa Champin.
Interestingly, many of the illustrations within exemplify “old breeds” of fruits and vegetables no longer grown today.
Edward Lear penned a collection of Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae (original title) or Parrots, one of the finest groups of natural drawings from the era. Parrots was penned entirely using live specimens (a rarity in the early days of ornithological illustration, when exotic birds, particularly live ones, were incredibly rare and highly prized.)
Hand-colored lithography had recently been developed and this medium served Lear to an advantage, adding a vivacity to his expressive, life-like parrot illustrations. Lear went on to work as drawing professor to the young Queen Victoria, but despite his artistic achievements, history remembers him better as an author of nonsense verse, an accomplishment made later in life.
(Even in his verse, however, Lear still found himself frequently preoccupied with birds. An example: “There was a Young Lady whose bonnet, / Came untied when the birds sate upon it; / But she said, ‘I don’t care! / All the birds in the air / Are welcome to sit on my bonnet!’”)
During the middle and late 19th Century, John Gould was one of Britain’s best known ornithological illustrators.
Through a career which spanned five decades, Gould produced many important collections of illustrations depicting species of birds from every corner of the globe.
The most spectacular of these is Gould’s Family of Toucans.
After viewing the toucan collection of an ornithologist friend, Gould became fascinated by the birds and embarked on a two year long study, the result of which is Monograph of the Ramphastidae or Family of Toucans, a collection of 51 hand-colored lithographs, reproduced for a modern audience.
Eden and sister shop Flutter are happy to offer an array of prints from reproductions of these three Victorian-era collections: Album Vilmorin The Vegetable Garden, Edward Lear The Parrots, and John Gould The Family of Toucans. Each ready-to-frame print is available individually in stores for $12, or as part of a complete set for $110.
These make excellent gifts (a perfect companion would be our Birds Book and America’s Other Audubon) and brighten any space in which they are displayed. Perfect for an aficionado of antiquities, a collector of curiosities or anyone seeking to enhance their decor.