A collection of water- and bodycolor paintings are the only known works of Dame Ann Hamilton (née Heathcote). This collection includes two volumes of finely detailed botanical art on vellum, composed between 1762 and 1766. Although little is known of Hamilton’s life, it is certain that she was a wellborn woman who was probably familiar with the beautiful gardens in her area, and that she probably learned from Ehret’s famous style.
Although Hamilton does not list where the plants in her drawings came from, many are thought to have been drawn from life with material from various estates and gardens. Mark Laird, who writes on two collections in the Oak Spring Garden Library, speculates that one of her plants could have been from a nursery belonging to Frances Kingston at Blandford.
As reflected in her style, Hamilton was inspired by the art of Georg Ehret; her sister, Bridget, was a prized pupil of the German artist, but the question remains as to whether or not Hamilton was also under his tutelage. As with Ehret’s works, Ann Hamilton’s drawings are inscribed with the name of the plant at the bottom of the vellum leaf, with the scientific name, and sometimes, the date, on the back. Ehret was also known for illustrating new introduced exotic plants, which is something that also interested Hamilton, as seen in her work The Virginian flowering Maple. Brought from America, this ornamental plant was recorded in The Gardeners Dictionary (1733) by Philip Miller, who explained that the plant was transported from America to South Lambeth and the “Gardens of the Bishop” in London, not far from Hamilton’s residence. Miller records two instances when the plant enters England and hopes that “it will in Time be more common in the Gardens of the Curious.” Thirty years later, perhaps it was: Hamilton was able to render it in such detail that a leaf, set in the center of the piece, is folded over and drawn with meticulous attention to its secondary veins. Differing shades of green are used for the front and underside of the leaf, demonstrating how carefully she drew the specimen from life.