Gesneriads have been represented in prints dating from the late 18th Century. Many of these are excellent examples of the artist’s and print-maker’s art, providing a more useful and more beautiful representation of the plants than is often possible with photography. In most cases, prints made prior to 1850 (and sometimes later) were individually colored by hand. Most of the prints here are hand colored.
The process for these early hand colored prints was multi-stage. First, an artist created a “drawing”, really a full-fledged water-color painting of the subject, usually from life (they had the live plant in front of them), occasionally from dried material. An engraver (sometimes the same artist, usually someone different) than created an engraving on a copper plate of this drawing. The engraving was then used to create the basic print, in black and white. The number of prints created depended on the number that had been subscribed in advance.
These basic black and white prints were then handed off to “colorists”, usually women, who applied color to each individual print. If the subscription for a particular publication was 3000, and there were 30 plates in the particular edition or folio, that meant there were 90,000 plates to color by hand! Variation in the colors inevitably occurred, which is why no two plates are ever identical.
Eventually, the printing process migrated to lithography, which didn’t require copper-plate engraving, but even then hand coloring was required. Eventually, color lithography became the dominant process, but Curtis’s Botanical Magazine continued to hand color its plates into the middle of the 20th Century.
Some of our prints were the first publication of the species represented. They are thus not only fine art, but significant fragments of botanical history.
The links below are to a selection of antique prints from several personal collections. More will be added over time, as they are acquired.
Please note that the prints are presented alphabetically by the name under which the print was published. In most cases we have identified the proper current name for the species, but cannot guarantee that all of these identifications are current or correct. If you need confirmation of a proper current name, please contact us. And if you want to see all prints of a particular genus, for instance, go to Advanced Search at the top of the page where you can search the “current name” field, and do much more.
Most of these prints are presented at moderately high resolution, typically 2000 pixels on the longest side. Our zoom function allows you to hover your cursor over an image to zoom in to see detail, or to click the image and then click again to see the image at full size, which can be moved around the screen to see all the detail.
Most of the print pages have a link to a downloadable version of the image. You are free to download and to use however you wish, as the images are long out of copyright. Most should print quite nicely at the size they were published at, typically about 9″ x 6″.
If you re-publish them in any way, please credit the Gesneriad Reference Web, and give the URL for the print you are using.
William Curtis (1746-99) was an English apothecary, horticulturist and publisher. He established the Botanical Magazine in 1787, re-titled Curtis's Botanical Magazine after his death. It became the most important of all similar publications and still exists today, continuing to engage the most proficient botanical artists for its wonderful illustrations.
Sydenham Edwards (1769-1819) was discovered and engaged by William Curtis, and produced his first illustration for the Botanical Magazine in 1788 at the age of 19. After illustrating for the Magazine for 28 years, he fell into a dispute with Curtis's successors and left in 1815 to found his own publication, the Botanical Register. It is the prints from this latter publication that are identified here by the name Edwards. The Register was illustrated entirely by Edwards until his death in 1819, and continued to publish until 1847 under the name Edwards' Botanical Register.
Gould Hummingbird Prints
John Gould (1804-81) is famous for his beautiful large-format prints of hummingbirds. Several of these prints include Gesneriads, often copied from the then-current hand colored plates we now think of as “antique prints”.
Joseph Harrison (1798-1856) was a prominent gardener in a peak time for English gardening on large and prominent estates. He was head gardener at Wortley Hall, the estate of Baron Wharncliffe, for ten years, and during that time founded the Floricultural Cabinet, which proved immensely popular and remained in publication under various editors and forms of the name until 1916. While it was a low-budget project as first established, it nonetheless published a number of notable plants during the peak of 19th C horticultural enthusiasm.
Charles Lemaire (1800-1871) was a French botanist and botanical editor, who was involved in a number of prominent Belgian botanical publications during the middle of the 19th C. He worked with Louis van Houtte, and was editor of van Houtte's Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l'Europe for several years, before joining L'Illustration Horticole where he remained until shortly before his death. The prints bearing his name come from that latter publication.
George Loddiges (1784-1846) was an English nurseryman, who not only ran one of the most prominent European nurseries, featuring the largest glasshouse in the world, but became a feature of English and Continental scientific life. He published the Botanical Cabinet, an influential illustrated magazine that introduced many exotic plants from around the globe. Prints from this publication are those shown under his name.
Benjamin Maund (1790–1863) was a British pharmacist, botanist, printer, bookseller, fellow of the Linnean Society (1827) and publisher of the Botanic Garden and The Botanist. The former was primarily an inventory of the flowering plants cultivated in the royal gardens. The Botanist, on the other hand, was more of a botanical journal that not only introduced new exotic plants but instructed gardeners in their cultivation. It presented an excellent series of well-executive prints, many drawn by women -- including at least two of Maund's daughters. Prints shown with the name Maund are from The Botanist.
Charles F. A. Morren (1807-1858) and his son Charles J. E. Morren (1833-1886), were Belgian professors, botanists and horticulturists; they were successive directors of the Jardin Botanique de l'Université de Liège, and jointly edited the influential botanical journal La Belgique Horticole, until the father's illness necessitated retirement and the son carried on. Prints listed with the name Morren as editor/publisher are from that publication.
Joseph Paxton (1903-1865) was an English gardener, architect and Member of Parliament, best known for designing the Crystal Palace, and for cultivating the Cavendish banana, the most consumed banana in the Western world. He was instrumental in enabling construction of the practical greenhouses essential for the widespread cultivation of tropical plants, and was also the principal force behind the Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants. The prints bearing the name Paxton are from this publication.
Van Houtte Prints
Louis van Houtte (1810-1876) was a Belgian horticulturist and publisher who contributed greatly to the introduction and understanding of botanical exotics from around the world. His publication Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l'Europe (Plants of the Greenhouses and Gardens of Europe) was a compendium of the latest introductions, and served as a kind of catalog for his nursery business. It contained excellent illustrations, a substantial proportion of which were copies of those in English journals. As a horticulturist, van Houtte was interested in the possibilities of hybridization, as well as in new species, and Flore des Serres was one of the few publications illustrating hybrids.
A substantial proportion of all the Antique Prints within the gesneriaceae have been of species that we now consider to be in the Sinningia genus. They were originally classified under a variety of names, including Gesnera, Gesneria, Stenograsta, Dircaea, Gloxinia, Sinningia and even Columnea and Besleria.