English Wildflowers 1912

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This charming collection of delicately hand-executed illustrations of English wildflowers, most likely by a single artist, dates from around the start of World War I. Focusing on the symphony of colour in the floral natural world, the paintings embrace the colourful contrast of sunny yellows, jewel purples and ruby reds against the lush and cool green foliage of stem, stalk and leaf.

These images were collected in a small 22 x 16cm paper covered volume, which may imply that they were meant to be carried as a kind of portable ‘encyclopaedia’ of flowers to accompany trips into the countryside. Though simple and generalised in their detail, their resulting beauty of colour and line indicate that they are the products of dedicated effort, executed with great care and concern.

Their value rests not only in their status as art objects, but as items of equal importance in the realm of illustration, natural history, as well as the history of education. In the age before the widespread use of documentary photography, hand-drawn botanical illustrations of this type were an important intersection between the realms of art and science, combining the Romantic love for nature with the interest in travel and exploration fostered by the Victorian age of industry and mechanisation. These works also have a particular poignancy as documents executed before the start of the World War I, in their evocation of a simpler, more pastoral time in English history.