Unpublished, ca. 1795. In two volumes. Folio (36.3 x 26.4 cm). 88 fine watercolour drawings (69 on vellum) of flowering plants and colourful insects, some heightened with silver and gold. Various sizes, mounted on the album sheets. Contemporary green limp boards with embossed borders (one in gilt) and green strings. Marbled endpapers.
A fine suite of 88 large to very large detailed watercolours of chiefly European plants, feathers, and insects (and one mouse, nibbling on a corn ear), drawn after nature and easily identifiable as different species. The few datings and dated watermarks point towards a late 18th century origin. Each drawing is a rare mix of beauty and accuracy, pointing towards a very skilled botanical, ornithological and entomological illustrator. The drawings of feathers are of an unusually high quality and outstanding beauty. Unknown artists of exceptional works are often named after their most famous or exemplary work as "The master of the...". In the same vein, this artist could be described as "The master of the feathers". The plant drawings, with butterflies, are especially reminiscent of the works of Moses Harris. Gold is applied to some butterflies, and to two images of dragonflies. One of the feather drawings is signed "W. K. fecit", and one of the plants, captioned Lysimache tinella, is signed (?) "C. D. F.". Another signature, in light pencil on a leaf with a watercolour of a lily, is of A. S. Murray. The first could indicate the Irish artist and calico-printer William Kilburn (1745-1818) (see Britten & Boulger), or the mid to late 18th century flower painter William King. One flower (thistle) and insect drawing, with a black background, is strongly reminiscent of the work of Barbara Regina Dietzsch (1706-1783) and Margareta Barbara Dietsch (1716-1795). Many illustrations are captioned, using either an English or Latin scientific name. Two illustrations are accurately dated: a bustard feather found near Halifax, dated Sept 1794, and the South American flowering plant, Nolana prostrata (= N. humifusa Gouan), dated, exactly, August 13th, 1795. One leaf of wove paper, with a yellow Oxalis (wood-sorrel) flower, has a 1794 J. Whatman watermark. One volume contains, on the front pastedown, the pseudo-armorial bookplate of the international stationer Thomas Greenhill, "At ye Anchor opposite the Mansion House, London / Stationery for Exportation". This suggests that the paintings may have been made outside the United Kingdom, but perhaps by (a) British citizen(s). Of the watercolours, 69 are painted on vellum, eight on laid paper (two of which with the Dutch 18th century watermark "Vryheit"), and 11 on wove paper (some with a J. Whatman watermark, of which two dated, 1794). Some minor shelfwear to both volumes, internally clean. A unique item in very good condition. Britten & Boulger, A biographical index of deceased British and Irish botanists, 2nd ed. by A. B. Rendle, p. 173.