|Description||Volume of botanical paintings of aloes, 27 made to record the important collection of aloes at Chelsea. Five are by van Huysum and 22 by Ehret. They provide a unique pictorial record of the collection as it was at that time (1734-1737), provide a new opportunity to assess the work of the two artists at this particular period in their respective careers, and provide a key as to which species were in cultivation in the Chelsea Physic Garden, including an indication that in some cases the species grown were not those listed in the various catalogues of the Garden. These drawings of Aloes are not the earliest pictures of Chelsea plants, but they are the earliest accurate representations, and are the only known attempt in the history of the Garden to record the entire collection of a particular genus in this way. All but one of the drawings by Ehret in this collection bear his signature, in the form 'G.D.Ehret fecit'. The name of the plant is also written in his own hand. The whole plant is shown, with enlarged details of flower structure, including the relative lengths of stamens and style, and the arrangement of the bracts. In at least one drawing Ehret shows the small spines on the underside of the leaves. The majority of his surviving work dates from later periods, so this collection is of special interest. The five drawings by Jacob or Jacobus van Huysum (1665-1746) in this volume are some of the best examples of his work, and are freer and sketchier than those of Ehret, in some cases he rather than Ehret appearing to capture the true nature of the plant. The van Huysum drawings have the name of the species written in a different hand to the signature, possibly that of Philip Miller, who was involved in setting the project in train. |
In the Council Minutes [CMO 3 page 179], it is recorded 'Mr Miller's Bill for twenty six Drawings of different Species of Aloes and other Plants in their proper Colours by Mr Van Huysum and Mr Ehret according to an Order of Council amounting to £11.15.0. was agreed to by Ballot, and ordered to be paid.'
|Administrative history||Georg Dionysius Ehret was the greatest botanical artist of his period. Probably born in Heidelberg, son of a gardener, his talent was recognized by the German botanists with whom he came in contact. Dr Christopher Trew of Nuremberg was his first patron; a distinguished scientist of his time, he commissioned Ehret to draw exotic plants and species newly introduced from other continents, which gained him recognition. He met and became friends with Linnaeus, regularly exchanged correspondence and botanical specimens. After visiting England in 1735, he settled here in 1736. He had first met Miller, and Sir Hans Sloane, during his stay here in 1735, when Miller recognized his outstanding skills. He was to achieve a considerable reputation in his lifetime, painting the new plants in the collections of great gardeners of the period, and teaching flower painting to the wives and daughters of the nobility. His drawings of the Aloes at Chelsea for the Royal Society must be one of the early commissions he carried out after settling here in 1736. They were delivered to the Royal Society by 1737, with some drawings probably delivered before this date. The majority of his surviving work dates from later periods.|
Jacob van Huysum (c1685-1746) had already achieved a considerable reputation by the time he made his five drawings of the Chelsea Aloes. He had provided drawings of new plants in the Physic Garden for John Martyn's 'Historia Plantarum Rariorum' (1728-1737) and for the 'Catalogue of a Society of Gardeners' (1730) thought to be the work of Philip Miller. His work has been much less highly regarded by connoisseurs of botanical illustration than that of Ehret.
The Journal Book for 2 May 1734 relates a proposal to have the yearly collection of Chelsea Physic Garden preserved in watercolours following the presentation of drawings by Mr van Huysum as samples. The yearly collection consisted of 50 specimens of dried plants sent each year to the Society in accordance with the terms of the lease granted to the Society of Apothecaries by Sir Hans Sloane in 1722. On 19 July 1734, Philip Miller, Gardener to the Society of Apothecaries since 1722, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1729, was asked to propose a list of plants most necessary to be preserved in this way. His choice of genus was the Aloes, of potential interest for their medicinal use with new species arriving from South Africa in significant numbers, and also as a succulent a genus difficult to preserve in conventional ways. These were delivered by May 1737.