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Robert John Thornton

Robert Thornton (1768-1837) produced what is probably the most remarkable British botanical work of all time, The Temple of flora (1807). This formed the third and final part of his: New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus. What distinguished this work from others of the time, remembering that this was the golden age of botanical illustration with a select leisured class eager to appreciate luxurious publications, was Thornton’s insistence that the plants should be displayed not against conventional plain backgrounds, nor against formal landscapes, but in the full splendour of their natural habitat. Not only that but he had an artistic vision which led to the plants being prominent in the foreground with an atmospheric, often gothic, background. It was truly a product of the romantic movement as much as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What makes the book, or indeed the individual prints, such fertile ground for the collector, is that its thirty-one plates, which were originally offered to subscribers in parts be bound later, were also issued complete in book form in 1807. This meant that many of the plates which were produced by a variety of techniques, including aquatint, mezzotint, stipple, and line engraving were often altered or added to producing a different 'state' in each case; consequently, some plates have as many as four different states.

 

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  1. First state, aquatint and mezzotint, printed in colour and finished by hand, heightened with gum arabic, from The Temple of Flora. Framed and glazed, overall dimensions: 52 by 64 cm.

    £5,000
  2. Engraving, 252 x 390mm (cut to plate mark), mounted.

    £1,750
  3. First state, aquatint and mezzotint, printed in colour and finished by hand, heightened with gum arabic, from The Temple of Flora. Framed and glazed, overall dimensions: 52 x 64 cm. (20 1/2 x 25 1/4 in).

    £7,500
  4. Aquatint and mezzotint, printed in colour and finished by hand, heightened with gum arabic, from The Temple of Flora. Framed and glazed, overall dimensions: 52 x 64 cm. (20 1/2 x 25 1/4 in).

    £6,500
  5. Aquatint and mezzotint, printed in colour and finished by hand, heightened with gum arabic, from The Temple of Flora. Framed and glazed, overall dimensions: 52 x 64 cm. (20 1/2 x 25 1/4 in).

    £13,500
  6. Engraving with mezzotint, printed in colours and finished by hand, heightened with gum arabic.

    £4,000
  7. Original hand-coloured aquatint with stipple engraving.

    £3,750
 

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