Charlotte Metcalfe: 1818 Botanical Watercolours

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These exquisitely painted examples of early British botanical illustration on laid paper are by the talented hand of Charlotte Metcalfe. In 1818 she embarked on a visual catalogue of the common wildflowers around her, an endeavour resembling the finely detailed illustrations in the famous 'Curtis’s Botanical Magazine' to which she refers. She illustrates flowers found commonly in British hedgerows, woodlands, marshes and ditches - such as nettle, wort, mallow and sage - and on occasions cross-references her species with ‘Mr Curtis’s Botany’. The collection also evidences an interest in plants’ medicinal uses such as those described in Robert Hooper’s ‘Lexicon Medicum’.

Metcalfe’s illustrative style is typical of early British botanical artists at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries - the ‘specimens’ painted with great attention to scientific accuracy, with extremely fine outlines and subtle variation of colour, which would translate well into engraved colour plates. The numbering style she has used (e.g ‘N.1’) matches that in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, one of the greatest scientific periodicals of all time. Founded in 1787 by one of Britain’s most famous early botanists, William Curtis, and still published to this day, it is the oldest periodical in existence featuring coloured plates and has included the work of many acclaimed botanical artists. Metcalfe’s illustrations are an early contemporaneous example of the popularity and influence of Curtis’s work.