As part of my botany research, I have recently just read the book The Art of Botanical Illustration by Wilfrid Blunt, this book was insightful in learning about the processes artists and scientists have gone through to document nature. The book starts of with a lovely quote by Ruskin, ‘If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world’
When a leaf is more than just a leaf: John Ruskin’s watercolour Withered Oak Leaves 1879
‘Ruskin often made detailed studies of plants and felt that it was more instructive and revealing to start with the intricate details before tackling the whole. As he put it: ‘We cannot learn to paint leaves by painting trees full; nor grass by painting fields full. Learning to paint one leaf rightly is better than constructing a whole forest of leaf definitions.’’ (Smith, 2011) Ruskin loved flowers whole heartedly and looked at flowers with the eye of an artist.
The book precedes to talk about how ‘…the earliest flower drawings were for the most part made to assist the searcher after medicinal herbs.’ (Blunt, 1993) Which is a purely scientific reason, the artist had to observe the plants with much greater detail. Making sure the drawings were informative enough for the searcher. Not all artists who have chosen botany as a subject, go to such depth and actually a lot of artists manipulate what they see to create a much more aesthetic drawing. Although any ‘great botanical artist must have a passion for flowers.’ (Blunt, 1993)
‘Floriculture, rather than scientific botany controlled the destinies of flower painting and directed it to new channels.’ (Blunt, 1993) Floriculture is an international, multi-billion dollar industry that includes the production of bedding and garden plants, foliage plants, potted flowering plants, cut flowers, cut cultivated greens, and floriculture materials. When researching flowers, I have found it difficult to find unusual plants and instead have only had the chance to work with the every day plants and flowers. This has limited my research and practice significantly.
The book also gave me a comprehensive list of all the artists that have made an impact in botanical illustration. This list mentioned Redoute, who Blunt believed to be ‘the most celebrated flower painter of his day, the most popular indeed of the whole history of botanical art.’ You can see some of Redoute’s beautiful drawings below.
Blunt, W., 1993, The Art of Botanical Illustration, Revised & enlarged Edition, Antique Collectors Club.
Naeve, L., 2016, Floriculture | Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Online, Available at: http://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/specialty-crops/floriculture/. (Accessed 15 January 2017)
Smith, A., 2011, John Ruskin and the beauty of leaves, Online, Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/john-ruskin-and-beauty-leaves. (Accessed 15 January 2017).