Saturday, March 28, 2009

Botanical Artists: Elizabeth Blackwell and 'A Curious Herbal'

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first British woman to produce a 'herbal' and the first woman to engrave as well as draw plants.

She compiled and published her hand drawn, engraved and coloured "A Curious Herbal" in 1735 in order to raise funds to free her husband from debtors prison! It had taken her six years but she achieved she her aim in the end.

What's a herbal? A herbal is a book of plants, describing their appearance, their properties and how they may be used for preparing ointments and medicines.
British Library - A Curious Herbal
A herbal is the name given in earlier centuries to a book about plants - particularly those thought to have a medicinal use and of interest to physicians.

My new site dedicated to her Elizabeth Blackwell - Resources for Botanical Art Lovers [UPDATE] About Elizabeth Blackwell provides links to all the websites and places where it's possible to find out more about her and her work. One of these is the Chelsea Physic Garden which is the place she visited on a regular basis to draw the plants it contained.

Chelsea Physic Garden
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Hans Sloane (the man behind the name behind Sloane Square) purchased the manor of Chelsea(!) and then provided the grounds for the Physic Garden and also apparently provided the funds to help get "A Curious Herbal" published.

It's actually very difficult to find places online where you can see images from "A Curious Herbal". I came to the conclusion there were two main sources.

First is the British Library website which has a 'turning the pages' site dedicated to "A Curious Herbal" - see British Library - "A Curious Herbal" - a Turning the Pages" book. This is a digital online version of the finely-bound copy of "A Curious Herbal from the collection of King George III which resides in the British Library. The e-book provides a series of double page spreads with image and explanation of what each plant is and what it is used for. The preface of the book also provides a testimonial from the President and governing body of the Royal College of Physicians to the effect that they found Blackwell's illustrations to be very useful.

Second believe ot or not was Amazon! Amazon has various of the images from the Herbal available as giclee prints - so I've included a number of them in the information site.

Overall I'm finding the stories - the history, the context, the facts and the places - associated with some of these lesser known botanical artists to be absolutely fascinating and it's leading me off in all sorts of directions in terms of further research! There's more to come...........



  1. how delightful, thank you. a student of mine alerted me to another herbal...this one being Scottish...there's a link to it from the side bar of my blog page

    now looking forward to exploring more of your site!

  2. Of course this grabbed my attention on a couple of levels. Botanicals and herbals especially are always so interesting.

    There are a lot of rabbit warrens to wander into in your discoveries I am sure. What fun!

  3. i have what i am told two original illustrations of mrs blackwell.

    my great grandfather was caretaker of the pratt house in ojai california, designed by greene and greene, he acquired these illustrations from the owners of the pratt house, mr pratt then president of standard oil

    do you know of a dealer whom i may contact?

    thank you

  4. I'm afraid I don't. However I have come across dealers in vintage botanical art drawings and prints online. Maybe try googling?

  5. I'm afraid I don't. However I have come across dealers in vintage botanical art drawings and prints online. Maybe try googling?


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