Greatest botanical artist featured at NYBG

An exhibition entitled Georg Ehret: The Greatest Botanical Artist of the 1700s opens on April 18 in the William D. Rondina and Giovanni Foroni LoFaro Gallery of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden. The spring 2009 exhibition will explore the life and work of one of the greatest botanical illustrators of all time, Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770). This exhibition will gather together for the first time for public viewing magnificent examples of Ehret’s paintings from public and private collections, alongside his published works from the holdings of the Mertz Library.

Among the masterpieces on view to the public will be a copy of the only work produced and published by Georg Ehret himself, entitled Plantae et papilliones rariores and produced in London between 1748 and 1759. It is the only work for which he also did all of the engraving. Each hand-colored plate is a marvelous example of his unerring instinct for design which makes his printed works so appealing to modern eyes.

Two of the most sumptuous hand-colored natural history folios ever created, Plantae selectae and Hortus nitidissimis, will also be on display. They were published by one of Ehret’s greatest patrons,

Dr. Christoph Jacob Trew, a wealthy Nuremberg physician. These works showcased Ehret’s talent to a broad audience and ensured his rise to become one of the most sought-after drawing teachers of his day. His works even served as designs for painters at the celebrated Chelsea Porcelain Factory. The beauty of Ehret’s compositions is all the more remarkable when one considers that he never received any formal art training.

Ehret settled in London and became well-known in the worlds of horticulture and natural science and met many great men and women of the Enlightenment. He received commissions from both wealthy patrons and botanists. Publications of prominent scientists who knew and patronized Ehret, such as Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Hans Sloane (1660-1753), and Mark Catesby (1683-1749), will also be on view in this exhibition.

Artworks in Georg Ehret: The Greatest Botanical Artist of the 1700s are on loan from the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, the Pierpont Morgan Library, the Collections of W. Graham Arader III, Mrs. Jutta Buck, and Mrs. Rachel Lambert Mellon’s Oak Spring Garden Library, and other private collections.

For a botanical illustrator, there could be no better time and place to be than 18th-century London, a period that saw the design and construction of many notable public parks and private gardens. Gardening became fashionable and a number of nurseries sprouted up, offering an increasing array of exotic and curious new plants to collectors who vied with each other to build ever larger glasshouses to contain them. Publication of botanical works increased, requiring illustrators skilled in creating precise plant drawings.

In London, Ehret found himself at the center of a web of botanists and gardeners, many of whom received seeds and plants from the well-known nursery of Peter Collinson. Ehret sometimes painted new species at Collinson’s nursery and met many patrons there, as well as at the Chelsea Physic Garden, founded in 1673 as the Apothecaries’ Garden with the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants.

Ehret’s scientific training began with his introduction to Dr. Trew in Nuremberg, Germany, who became one of his greatest patrons, and led to his meeting the famed Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the Netherlands. Ehret’s technique emphasized botanical dissection and precise rendering, imbuing his compositions with an astonishing beauty and accuracy.

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