Showcasing Kew's Collections
This painting, from the Kew Collection, is of a Fritillaria persica from the Liliaceae family. It is native to west Asia and can grow from 30 cm (12 in) to 60 cm (24 in) tall. It flowers in spring and ranges from deep purple to greenish brown in colour. Each plant may have up to 30 conical, bell-shaped flowers, up to 3/4 inches long.
The artist, Simon Taylor (1742-c.1796) was trained in the drawing school of William Shipley in London. Around 1760 Taylor was employed by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, to help G. D. Ehret to paint the rare plants at Kew. On Ehret’s death in 1770, Taylor became the main artist at Kew; he could not however rival Ehret for his reputuation. Taylor’s paintings help to provide evidence of of the plants grown at Kew at its foundation and later.
At this time Lord Bute was the trusted advisor and friend of Princess Augusta, who was married to Prince Frederick, son of George II and Queen Caroline. In 1731 Frederick bought a house on the present Kew Palace site. At this time, as was the fashion, the gardens were filled with exotic animals including Indian pheasants and the now extinct zebra-like quagga. Frederick died aged 42 in 1751 and Augusta then took advice on the garden from Lord Bute and the Reverend Stephen Hales, a pioneer of plant physiology. In 1754, Bute bought a house on Kew Green in London and built an extension to accommodate his botanical library. The house had a private gate into the grounds of Kew Palace where he helped Princess Augusta to create Kew Gardens. In 1759, Princess Augusta and Lord Bute established the first botanic garden at Kew, employing William Aiton as the gardener. The Physic or Exotic Garden is the direct ancestor of today's establishment and this date is now accepted as the foundation of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
This work in focus by Taylor is watercolour on paper laminated on an album page. It is titled with the Linnaean name followed by the page reference ‘Sp. Pl 136' which relates to the second edition of Carl Linnaeus’ book Species Plantarum. This painting was acquisitioned into Kew’s collection in 1932, as part of the Tankerville Collection, and was purchased with the help of the Bentham-Moxon Trust. This collection was of over 600 works from 1756-1824 contained in 15 volumes by artists including, G. D. Ehret and Margaret Meen as well as Taylor. Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville (1743-1822) bought some of these works, most likely the Taylor paintings, from the 1794 sale of Lord Bute’s collections after his death.
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