Elizabeth Arnold Thomas: Flowers of India

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This collection of botanical artwork in watercolour pencil is by Elizabeth Arnold Thomas. Executed mainly between 1870 and 1880, these pictures’ beauty and rarity comes from their source material and size: these paintings are larger than was typical for botanical works of their time, and nearly all the blossoms in the collection are drawn from life in southern India, specifically the region around the Kailasa temple in Ellora.

The ancient Hindu temple Kailasa has been both a worship and tourist site for many centuries. However, it was not until around 1900 that a nearby railway was built, and since our collection spans a wide range of years, it is likely that our artist lived locally. These works were evidently a labour of love – and the artist annotates most of the paintings with inscriptions noting specific locations and observations such as ‘beautiful scent’ or ‘after 6 years…hunting’.

Due to the lack of records on Elizabeth in England during this period, it is possible that she was native born to India, into perhaps a British trading or military family, as some of the paper bears a watermark from a paper mill in Kent. Both beautiful and scientifically accurate, this collection of works is a rare jewel, weaving intersections through the late nineteenth century worlds of Britain, India, art and science.