Emily Ledbrook Botanical Watercolours

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This collection of beautiful illustrations by botanical artist Emily Ledbrook (fl.1886-1932) dates from 1905-1915. The paintings document a dazzling array of British flower species, giving the common name, Latin name, and – where known – the native location for each. The watercolours are lightly executed, with only the faintest of graphic underdrawing, but Ledbrook brilliantly records the specificity of leaf, petal and stem of each flower variety.

Botanical illustration dates from as far back as four thousand years ago, when the agricultural civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt produced plant drawings. The practice continued in ancient Greece in connection with herbal medicine. It was only in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, that botanical illustration became an art in its own right, playing an important role in world exploration. European travellers were returning from afar with plant and seed samples, which were cultivated in landowners’ gardens. Botanical artists were often commissioned to catalogue their collections, and botanical classification was becoming an increasingly sophisticated science.

Emily Ledbrook (fl.1886-1932) lived in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and was a pupil of fellow Leamington Spa artist Elizabeth Whitehead (1854-1934) who worked at 3 Lansdowne Terrace. Elizabeth Whitehead was a consummate painter of flowers – for which she was admired by, amongst others, Augustus John. Emily Ledbrook evidently flourished under this instruction and excelled in flower painting herself. She went on to work as a botanical illustrator, including producing illustrations for “A Garland of Shakespeare’s Flowers” in 1911.

She also produced beautiful and accomplished floral oil paintings, three examples of which are in Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum. She exhibited at the Royal Society of Artists, Birmingham, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and the Royal Academy, London. She is included in the Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists, published by the Natural History Museum.