James Sowerby

Discover the botanical illustrator who recorded nearly 3,000 British plants

Caterpillars (1785/1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

James Sowerby was born in Lambeth, London in 1757 and studied at the Royal Academy. A gifted illustrator, he specialised in producing natural history studies.

Variety of Mesembryanthemum (1785/1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

Having decided to become a painter of flowers he came to the notice of William Curtis, who commissioned him to illustrate his book “Flora Londinensis”.

Serratula praealta - Tall Saw Wort (1785/1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

The first volume was produced in 1777 and continued until 1798. This hugely expensive publication ran to a print run of only 300 copies.

Botanical Drawing of Flower Section (1785/1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

With finely illustrated natural history publications being printed in relatively small numbers, Curtis decided to undertake a new type of publication and in 1787 began printing a regularly produced botanical journal “The Botanical Magazine”.

Leucojum Aestivum by James Sowerby (c.1780) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

Early volumes of the journal, contained fifty-six illustrations by Sowerby and many plants received their first publication being depicted for the very first time on its pages. The descriptions given of each specimen were greatly enhanced by the detailed illustrations.

Helleborus hyematis - Winter Aconite (1786) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

Helleborus hyematis, the winter aconite was engraved for William Curtis' “The Botanical Magazine” and published by Sowerby at Lambeth Marsh in 1786.

Helleborus Niger by James Sowerby (1787) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

Helleborus niger, the Christmas Rose is one of Sowerby's most copied images and was engraved by him for William Curtis's "Botanical Magazine" in 1787.

Botanical Illustration of a Potentilla by James Sowerby (c.1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

Botanical Illustration of Aster by James Sowerby (c.1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

Lotus Jacobaeus - Black-flowered Lotus (1785/1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

In 1790, Sowerby began the first of several huge projects: a 36-volume work, “English Botany". Published over the next 23 years it contained 2,592 hand-coloured engravings and became known as Sowerby's Botany. Many of England’s flora and fauna were to receive their first formal publication within this work.

Botanical illustration of Centaurea by James Sowerby (c.1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

Sedum Aizoon - Stonecrop (1785/1800) by James SowerbyGarden Museum

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