Elizabeth Blackwell. “Barley” Pl. 423. From A Curious Herbal.
London, 1737-1739. Folio. Engravings with original hand-coloring.
A group of vivacious fruit and flower prints by Elizabeth Blackwell, one of the most famous early eighteenth-century botanical illustrators. Mrs. Blackwell lived a memorable life, having produced her charming Herbal (1737-9) to get her decidedly unpredictable husband out of debtor’s prison. As the story goes: “...she took a lodging near the Chelsea Physic Garden and set about making the drawings and engravings which have made her famous. From his prison cell Alexander assisted with the text; and so successful was their joint venture that two years later he was released.” (Wilfrid Blunt, Art of Botanical Illustration, p. 136) Unfortunately the story does not end here because Mr. Blackwell was subsequently arrested for treason in Sweden and executed. These appealing prints live on to remind us of Blackwell’s remarkable story, as well as existing in their own right as an important part of the herbal tradition being the first English botanical series and the first to be hand colored. They were later reissued by the well-known botanical scholar Christoph Jakob Trew from 1747 to 1773 in Germany. All in all, a charming and fascinating series of botanical prints.
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