Botanical Who's Who

Here is a personal 'who's who' of the botanical art world both past and present. This is very much an, 'in a nutshell' view of the lives and careers of some of my favourite artists.

A man from my home town and a legend of English design

William Morris by
George Frederick Watts
William Morris (1834 - 1896)

Born: Walthamstow, London
Lived at Woodford Hall, Kelmscott Manor and The Red House, Bexleyheath
Founded The Kelmscott Press and Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co
Co-founder of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

  • Notable Works: Kelmscott Press edition of 'Works of Geoffrey Chaucer', (1896);

The designs of William Morris are highly decorative and strongly influenced by the natural world. Of the 600 designs attributed to him, only a few do not feature some form of flower, leaf, tree or plant.

Associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement, Morris founded a design firm with the artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The work they produced during their partnership influenced the design of churches and houses into the early 20th Century, stretching to glass, furniture and textiles.

Morris had a preference for the flat use of line and colour avoiding all realistic, 3 dimensional portrayals of his subject matter. Medieval pattern on stained glass and textiles, including tapestries was a strong design motif and in later life Morris devoted his time to producing highly ornate illuminated texts through the Kelmscott Press.
Morris wallpaper designs are, perhaps his most famous influence on interior design. Choosing to use the traditional methods of hand, wood-block printing made his work technically difficult and lengthy to produce, with the intricate designs using a number of colours . Morris also wanted to produce tapestries using traditional medieval methods and eve embroidered work himself. His influence on floral design pieces still influnce the manufacture of homewares and decorative pieces today. Many of the traditional designs of wallpaper are still available today. William Morris designs are easily recognised for their exquisite and painstaking detail of natural forms, making him one of my botanical Who's Who.

Golden Lily Minor 

The Stawberry Thief


For something different, and one of my current favourites

Kate Nessler

Lives in Kingston, Arkansas, USA
Awarded 3 RHS Gold Medals
Award for Excellence, American Society of Botanical Artists, 1997

  • Notable Work: 'Edges', (a series of mixed media works on vellum), 'Of Two Minds' (2008), 'Becoming' (2006), 'A Singular Focus' (2003) Exhibitions; Jonathan Cooper 20th Anniversary Exhibition painting, 'Pods'

Kate Nessler has over 20 years experience in painting the equisitely detailed botanical subjects she chooses. Working on vellum and using charcoal as well as watercolour, Kate's work has an aged, fragile almost ethereal quality that expresses the movement and character of the subject.

Pared down compositions depict wispy stems, seedpods and fallen leaves and petals scattered gently across the paper. Colour is given a light touch and nothing is over-worked or seen to be unecessary to the overal effect. 

Kate is represented by Jonathan Cooper at the Park Walk Gallery in Chelsea and has had a number of highly successful exhibitions, including the 'Of Two Minds' exhibition. Her work has appeared in a number of articles in international publications as well as those from the USA.  

For painting on a large scale, you can't get much better than this woman

Iris 2 by Rosie Sanders
Rosie Sanders

Awarded 5 Gold Medals by The Royal Horticultural Society
Awarded the Royal Academy miniature award
Member of 'The Devon Guild of Craftsmen' as a printmaker.

  • Notable Work: The English Apple (1988), The Apple Book (2011)

Rosie Sanders has a truly unique approach to painting. The scale of her works along with an intense, saturated use of colour pushes the boundaries of traditional botanical art. Rosie's work is extremely diverse with printmaking and watercolour amongst her skills. Living in Devon, Rosie teachers her techniques and works on her highly sought after, large scale pieces, often using oil painting brushes to achieve her trademark saturated colours achieving astonishing levels of detail. Flowers that have a sculptural or strong architectural form are amongst Rosie's choices for subjects, particularly the Iris. 

In 2011, Rosie re-published her notable book, 'The English Apple' as 'The Apple Book' in collaboration with The Royal Horticultural Society. The book contains 144 of Rosie's highly detailed watercolours of each fruit along with the blossoms, leaves and branches. For her work on both this and her previous publication Rosie is often described as 'the best painter of the world's most famous fruit', devoting years of research to her work.

Rosie Sanders talks about her work on, 'The Apple Book'.

A present day artist and a grand Dame of British art. 

Dame Elizabeth Blackadder 1931-
Self Portrait (1951).

Born: Falkirk, Scotland

Married fellow artist, John Houston
Promoted to Dame in 2003

  • Notable Works: Oriental Poppies (2010), Flowers on an Indian Cloth, Self Portrait (1951), Chinese Still Life with Arum Lillies and loads more!

After studying at Edinburgh College of Art, Elizabeth Blackadder has continued to have a successful career with solo exhibitions every year since 1959. Before retiring in 1986, Elizabeth continued to teach at the college in Edinburgh with many well known artists benefitting from her knowlege and experience.
Dame Elizabeth Blackadder is an extremely versatile artist, working in both oils and watercolours, producing landscapes, portraiture, (including her cats!) and floral works. It is the latter in watercolour which have proved most popular with the public. 

Starting with an interest in botany and wild flowers, Dame Elizabeth chooses to paint flowers which have a strong structure such as irises, poppies and tulips. Her work is drenched in colour and although not a pure botanical artist, she captures the characteristcs of the subject, demonstrating a love of her subjects.
Dame Elizabeth's work is highly sought after and respected. She is the first woman ever to be elected to both the Scottish Royal Academy (1972) and The Royal Academy of Art, (1979).

No list of notable botanical artists would be complete without this man! 

Georg Dionysius Ehret. (1708 - 1770)

Botanist and entemologist (studied insects)
Born in Germany
  • Notable work: 'Hortus Cliffortianus' (1738)

Ehret became one of the most influential of the early European Botanical Artists. One of his most important collaborations was with wealthy banker and govenor of the Dutch East India Company, George Clifford. This collaboration led to the creation of the Hortus Cliffortianus.

Ehret particularly used sketchbooks to make excellent, detailed botanical studies of his subjects, which demonstrated a highly scientific approach to the subject and provides an important insight to what many would describe as 'The Golden Age' of botanical art.

Thinking of 'Working in the Field'? Here's the man who started it all.

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)

Born: Nuremburg, Germany
Printmaker, engraver, mathmetician and theorist.
The greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance

  • Notable works: Knight, Death and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome and his Study (1514), Great Piece of Turf (1503).  

Albrecht Durer was a considerable artist of his time. Regarded as the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance, Durer's prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties. Much is known of his life and work as he left a considerable quantity of autobiographical material, including details of his marriage and home life.

Durer's work is vast and various, encompassing religious alterpieces, portraiture and landscapes. He used a variety of mediums including Gouache and watercolour to create highly detailed and carefully observed works. His watercolour work marks him as one of the earliest of the European landscape artists. 
One of the most notable works by Durer is The Great Piece of Turf, (1503) and is one of the earliest known examples of an artist working in the field. Durer used his exceptional skills for capturing detail  to paint a varierty of plants growing in their  natural habitat. The piece shows a slice through a meadow and close botanical observation clearly portrays the tangle of grasses, dandelions and plantain.    

On his death, Durer left a vast fortune and a considerable legacy of work. His house in Nuremburg is now a museum.

Next on our list is Elizabeth Blackwell. A determined Scotswoman.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1707 - 1758)

Trained artist but untrained in Botany.
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Married her cousin, a Doctor, Alexander Blackwell.
Lived in London and worked at the Chelsea Physick Garden.

  •  Notable work: 'A Curious Herbal' (1737 - 1739).

Due to her husband's lavish lifestyle and debts, Elizabeth found herself destitute whilst Alexander found himself in prison. In order to maintain herself, her child and her home, Elizabeth decided to create a 'herbal' of medicinal plants from the New World.  

As an untrained Botanist, Elizabeth gained help from Isaac Rand, the curator of the Chelsea Physick Garden, whilst Alexander assisted with the Latin translations and descriptions. Her work, 'A Curious Herbal' included 500 of her own engravings and illustrations making her the first British woman to publish a herbal. The publication made enough money for Elizabeth to pay for Alexander to be allowed out of the debtor's prison. 

Who's next? Well it's the 'Raphael of Flowers', Pierre-Joseph Redoute

Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1759-1840)

Born in Saint Hubert, Luxembourg, (now part of Belgium)
Trained as a painter and botanist.
Nicknamed 'The Raphael of Flowers'.
Most famous for painting roses and lilies.

  • Notable Works: Alphabet Flore (1835); Les Roses (1824) 

Rosa centifolia

Redoute was the official court artist of Queen Marie Antoinette and despite the 'Terror' of the French Revolution he continued to paint. International acclaim followed due to his exquisite and precise interpretations of his subjects, particularly roses.

In 1786 Redoute worked at the Museum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, cataloguing the collections and learning the art of plant dissection. This skill would add to the beauty and technical superiority of his work. Later, he studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and took part in the botanic expeditions of Napolean Bonaparte, notably in Egypt. During 1789 Empress Josephine (first wife of Napolean), became a patron of Redoute's work and he became her official artist.

Pierre-Joseph Redoute was a prolific artist. During his career he contributed over 2100 published pieces, depicting nearly 2000 different plant species. Although his fortunes fell after the death of Empress Josephine he continued to paint and teach, gaining the position of master of design at the Museum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle where he also taught classes. 

Today, Redoute's work is still highly valued and admired the world over. For many botanical artists his work continues to provide a benchmark of the quality and skill required to produce such extraordinary work.    

Further Reading: Blunt, W; Stearn, W. T, (1950). 'The Art of Botanical Illustration: The Age of Redoute'. London.

Introducing the 'Speedy Gonzales' of botanical artists and one of Kew's own it's...

Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892)

Born: Glasgow, Scotland
Apprenticed to a firm of fabric printers.
Worked in his spare time at Kew Gardens, mounting specimens.

Notable work: Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya (1851)
Victoria Amazonia
A Century of Orchidaceous Plants (1851) 

Works held at: The Natural History Museum, London
The Royal Horticultural Society,Lindley Library

During his time working at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Fitch's ability was noted by William Hooker. Hooker was Professor of Botany at Glasgow University and was also appointed the Director of Kew. It was Hooker who persuaded Fitch to join him in a permanent position with him at Kew.
Rhododendron fulgens (1849-1851)
The Natural History Museum, london

Fitch was an extremely rapid painter, producing over 200 botanical works in one year alone. His confidence and high level of skill allowed him to work directly onto the printing plates, a very difficult practice that saved time on publication of works.

Working with Hooker allowed Fitch to produce works depicting new palnt varieties, often working from sketches and specimens sent to him by Hooker. A dispute over pay in 1877 led to Fitch's resignation from Kew. He had gained international acclaim and was able to continue working until 1888. During his lifetime Fitch produced 10,000 drawings including 3,000 works for the Botanical Magazine. His obituary in Nature stated, "... his reputation was so high and so world-wide that it is unnecessary to say much on this point".  

Further Reading: Walter Hood Fitch-'A Celebration'. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. HMSO. London.