Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770)
Rubus odoratus, Cornut (Purple-flowering Raspberry, Flowering Raspberry, or Virginia raspberry)
20 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches
Pencil, watercolor and bodycolor on vellum
Housed in contemporary gilt frame
From the distinguished collection at Croome Court
This work by Georg Dionysius Ehret holds an esteemed provenance, as it was once a part of the estate of the Earls of Coventry at Croome Court, Croome D’abitot, Worcestershire, probably commissioned by William Coventry, the fifth earl of Coventry (1676-1751). “As all Plants have their peculiar Beauties, ‘tis difficult to assign to any one an Elegance excelling all others, yet considering the curious Structure of the Flower, and beautiful Appearance of this whole Plant; I know of no Shrub that has a better Claim to it” – Mark Catesby “Natural History”. Ehret’s delicate and exquisitely fine portrait of a sprig of American Mountain Laurel corresponds intimately to his engraving “Ledum,” plate 38 of Christoph Jakob Trew’s (1695-1769)
“Plantae selectae quarum imagines ... pinxit Georgius Dionysius Ehret”. Nuremberg, 1750-1773.
“Plantae Selectae…” was the magnum opus of the long and fruitful collaboration between Trew and Ehret, but this fine watercolor is also testament to the collaboration between Ehret and Mark Catesby (1683-1749), the botanist and ornithologist most celebrated for his “Natural History of America,” (1754) where an almost identical engraving of the same sprig of Mountain Laurel is included as plate 98 “Chamaedaphne laurel Kalmia latifolia L.”
Ehret, a native of Germany, first travelled to England in 1735 with letters of introduction to patrons including Sir Hans Sloane and Philip Miller, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden. Although he still travelled widely Ehret settled permanently in England in 1738, marrying a sister of Miller’s wife. Catesby was also patronized by Sloane, who helped fund Catesby’s plant hunting expedition to the Americas, and to whom Catesby gave a vast number of his original drawings, including those for his “Natural History…” amongst them the original drawing for “Chamaedaphne laurel…” A close comparison of the two botanist’s drawings for the Mountain Laurel is not necessary to see that not only were these two great artists working closely together but that they drew the very same specimen, although: “…the differences between the artist’s techniques are demonstrated clearly. And so is the extent to which Catesby appears consciously to have emulated Ehret. The shrub itself was highly prized by Catesby’s fellow horticulturists, and
several attempts … were made to propagate it in England” (McBurney).
It is quite probable that this particular specimen was grown by Catesby in his garden at Fulham: “after several unsu cessful Attempts to propagate it from Seeds, I procured Plants of it at several Times from America, but with little Success, for they gradually diminished, and produced no Blossoms; ‘till my curious Friend Mr. Peter Collinson, excited by a View of its dryed Specimens, and Descriptionn of it, procured some Plants of it from Pensilvania, which Climate being nearer to that of England, than from whence mine came, some Bunches of Blossoms were produced in July 1740, and in 1741, in my Garden at Fulham” (Catesby). McBurney, “Mark Catesby’s Natural History of America inches46 and 47; See: British Museum, Banks Ms. F.17 Ehret “Chamaedaphne.”
Interesting to note, the garden at Fulham has a unique and rich history. The Bishop of London Henry Compton (1632-1713) oversaw the estate at Fulham and its garden. He, like many other British patrons of botany, was a member of an esteemed botany club, the Temple Coffee House Botany Club. Compton eventually decided to assign John Banister, a young English clergyman and one of the first university-trained naturalists, to travel to Virginia, not only to document its plant life but also to send specimens back to England. Throughout his 14 years abroad, Banister sent over 340 species of plants to Fulham, thrilling his patrons as well as artists who later planted and painted the specimens there. Tragically, Banister was killed in 1762 before the completion of his mission and works he compiled for "Natural History of Virginia," when he was send on a trading and exploring trip with William Byrd. Jacob Colson, a woodsman in the party, shot and killed Banister after apparently mistaking him for a deer. Though his life was cut short, he was mourned by many and remembered as "the greatest virtuoso we ever had on this continent" by peers including John Lawson, who would later become a leading New World naturalist in his own right.
Offered at $180,000