Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Spring Break - 19th-Century American Fruit Illustrations

Taking a break from art history. Each year at this time, I long to be outdoors in a garden somewhere or reading about gardens. I will take you along with me this spring...

This interesting insight into history & these lovely illustrations are from an article on America's 19th-century nurserymen from the Smithsonian Magazine of August 2011. Yale historian Daniel J Kevles writes "How to Trademark a Fruit: To protect the fruits of their labor and thwart 'plant thieves,' early American growers enlisted artists."

Red Astrachan Apple

Kelvles' begins his story in 1847, when Charles M. Hovey, owner of a 40-acre nursery in Cambridge, Masschusetts, began distributing a series of prints of American fruits. In 1852 & 1856, Hovey published his series of prints as The Fruits of America, Volume 1 & 2. Hovey borrowed the tactic of America's 1st important 19th-century garden author (1806) Bernard M'Mahon by declaring that he felt "a national pride in portraying the“delicious fruits...in our own country, many of them surpassed by none of foreign growth, thus demonstrating the developing “skill of our Pomologists” to the “cultivators of the world.”

William Prestele's Michaux Grape

Since the end of the American Revolution commercial seed & nursery entrepreneurs had been steadly growing in the United States. State horticultural societies began to organize at the end of the 18th-century; and in 1848, several of their leaders in the Eastern states gathered together to form the first national organization of fruit men—the American Pomological Society, named for Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits.

William Hooker's Noblesse Peach.

Fruit growers knew that if they were to protect their new varieties of fruit from appropriation by others, they had to identify them. And so a body of American botanical art began to emerge. The American Pomological Society quickly established a Committee on Synonyms and a Catalogue, hopeful, as its president said, that an authoritative voice would be the best means of preventing those numerous impositions and frauds which, we regret to say, have been practiced upon our fellow citizens, by adventurous speculators or ignorant and unscrupulous venders.”

William Prestele's Wineberry, or Wine Raspberry

The worried fruit growers were aided in the efforts to publicize & lay claim to their varieties by the arrival in the United States in the late 1830s, of William Sharp, an English artist, immigrated to Boston with a printing technology, chromolithography, which enabled the production of multiple-colored pictures.

Some engaged an artist named Joseph Prestele, a German immigrant from Bavaria who had been a staff artist at the Royal Botanical Garden in Munich. He had been making a name for himself in the United States as a botanical illustrator of great clarity, accuracy and minuteness of detail.

Coe's Golden Gumdrop Plum

To learn of the development of these books & catalogues & the patent issues involved for both the large nursery operations & small firms as well, read Daniel J Kevles' article in the Smithsonian Magazine here.