Curtis's Botanical Magazine

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Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Curtis' - title page serie 3 (vol 71, 1845 ).jpg
The Botanical Magazine, 1845 title page
First issue1 February 1787
ISSN 1355-4905

The Botanical Magazine; or Flower-Garden Displayed, is an illustrated publication which began in 1787. [1] The longest running botanical magazine, it is widely referred to by the subsequent name Curtis's Botanical Magazine.


Each of the issues contains a description, in formal yet accessible language, and is renowned for featuring the work of two centuries of botanical illustrators. Many plants received their first publication on the pages, and the description given was enhanced by the keenly detailed illustrations.

History and profile

The first issue, published on 1 February 1787, [2] was begun by William Curtis, as both an illustrated gardening and botanical journal. Curtis was an apothecary and botanist who held a position at Kew Gardens, who had published the highly praised (but poorly sold) Flora Londinensis a few years before. The publication familiarized its readers with ornamental and exotic plants, which it presented in octavo format. Artists who had previously given over their flower paintings to an affluent audience, now saw their work published in a format accessible by a wider one. The illustrations were initially hand-coloured prints, taken from copper engravings and intended to complement the text. Identification by a general reader was given in exploded details, some of which were given as a section. This was accompanied by a page or two of text describing the plants properties, history, growth characteristics, and some common names for the species.

Iris persica (Sowerby) Iris persica (Sowerby)2.jpg
Iris persica (Sowerby)

The first volume's illustrations were mostly by Sydenham Edwards. A dispute with the editors saw his departure to start the rival The Botanical Register . The credit for the first plate (Iris persica) goes to James Sowerby, as did a dozen of Edwards contributions. The first thirty volumes used copper engraving to provide the plates, the hand colouring of these was performed by up to thirty people. An issue might have a circulation of 3000 copies, with 3 plates in each. As costs of production rose, and demand increased, results would be variable within a run. The later use of machine colouring would provide uniformity to the artists work, although the process could not give the same detail for many years. The magazine has been considered to be the premier journal for early botanical illustration.

Dianthus barbatus Plate 207 (1793) Dianthus barbatus00.jpg
Dianthus barbatus Plate 207 (1793)

When Curtis died, having completed 13 volumes (1787–1800), his friend John Sims became editor between 1801 and 1807 (Volumes 15–26) and changed the name. William Hooker was the editor from 1826, bringing to it his experience as a botanist, and as author of the rival magazine, Exotic Botany . W. J. Hooker brought the artist Walter Hood Fitch to the magazine, this artist became the magazines principal artist for forty years.

Joseph Dalton Hooker followed his father, becoming the Director of Kew Gardens in 1865, and editor of its magazine. Fitch resigned from the magazine in 1877 following a dispute with Hooker—for whom Fitch had been preparing illustrations for several books—and Hooker's daughter Harriet Anne Hooker Thiselton-Dyer stepped in. [3] [4] She rendered almost 100 illustrations for publication during the period 1878–1880, helping to keep the magazine viable until the next principal artist, Matilda Smith took over as lead illustrator. [5]

Like Thiselton-Dyer, Smith was brought to the magazine by Hooker, who was her cousin. Between 1878 and 1923 Smith drew over 2,300 plates for Curtis's. Her exceptional contribution was to see her become the first botanic artist of Kew, and she was later made an associate of the Linnean Society—the second woman to have achieved this. The scientific value of the figures and illustration, a source of pride and notability for the magazine, required the careful training of the illustrators. The artist worked closely with the botanist to depict a specimen, the use of exploded details surrounding the depiction gave the volumes practical appeal to botanists, horticulturalists, and gardeners.

The magazine is the greatest serial of botanical illustration yet produced, the consistent quality of the journal's plates and authority make this the most widely cited work of its kind. Other 19th century artists who contributed largely to the magazine include Augusta Innes Withers and Anne Henslow Barnard, Joseph Dalton Hooker's sister-in-law, who was active in the period 1879–1894. [6] The hand-coloured plates were a labor-intensive process, but this tradition was continued by another principal illustrator, Lilian Snelling (1879–1972), from 1921 until 1948 [7] A photomechanical process was implemented after this time. In 1921, Lilian Snelling, took over as chief illustrator on the magazine, a position she held until 1952, producing over 830 paintings and plates during her tenure [8] From 1929, she was assisted by Stella Ross-Craig, a talented illustrator and botanist who remained at Kew until the 1960s, contributing 3000 illustrations to many publications including Curtis's. [9]

It has been published continuously ever since, with a change of name to The Kew Magazine from 1984 to 1994. In 1995 the name reverted to that of the widely cited, Curtis's Botanical Magazine. It continues to be published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as a publication for those interested in horticulture, ecology or botanical illustration.

The standard form of abbreviation is Curtis's Bot. Mag. or Botanical Magazine in the citation of botanical literature.

See also

Related Research Articles

William Jackson Hooker 18th/19th-century English botanist

Sir William Jackson Hooker was an English botanist and botanical illustrator, who became the first director of Kew when in 1831 it was recommended to be placed under state ownership as a botanic garden. At Kew he founded the Herbarium and enlarged the gardens and arboretum. The standard author abbreviation Hook. is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

James Sowerby British botanical illustrator and mineralogist (1757-1822)

James Sowerby was an English naturalist, illustrator and mineralogist. Contributions to published works, such as A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland or English Botany, include his detailed and appealing plates. The use of vivid colour and accessible texts were intended to reach a widening audience in works of natural history. The standard author abbreviation Sowerby is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

William Curtis British scientist and botanist

William Curtis was an English botanist and entomologist, who was born at Alton, Hampshire, site of the Curtis Museum.

John Lindley English botanist, gardener and orchidologist (1799–1865)

John Lindley FRS was an English botanist, gardener and orchidologist.

Walter Hood Fitch

Walter Hood Fitch was a botanical illustrator, born in Glasgow, Scotland, who executed some 10,000 drawings for various publications. His work in colour lithograph, including 2700 illustrations for Curtis's Botanical Magazine, produced up to 200 plates per year.

Henry John Elwes English botanist and entomologist (1846–1922)

Henry John Elwes, FRS was a British botanist, entomologist, author, lepidopterist, collector and traveller who became renowned for collecting specimens of lilies during trips to the Himalaya and Korea. He was one of the first group of 60 people to receive the Victoria Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1897. Author of Monograph of the Genus Lilium (1880), and The Trees of Great Britain & Ireland (1906–1913) with Augustine Henry, as well as numerous articles, he left a collection of 30,000 butterfly specimens to the Natural History Museum, including 11,370 specimens of Palaearctic butterflies.

Stella Ross-Craig British botanist and botanical illustrator

Stella Ross-Craig was an English illustrator best known as a prolific illustrator of native flora.

William Turner Thiselton-Dyer

Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer was a leading British botanist, and the third director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

João Barbosa Rodrigues Brazilian botanist

João Barbosa Rodrigues was considered one of Brazil's greatest botanists, known especially for his work on orchids and palms. For nearly two decades he was director of the Botanic Garden of Rio de Janeiro. Something of a polymath, he was a prolific botanical artist who also made contributions to his country's ethnography, geography, linguistics, zoology, and literature. The standard author abbreviation Barb.Rodr. is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

Botanical illustrator

A botanical illustrator is a person who paints, sketches or otherwise illustrates botanical subjects. Typical illustrations are in watercolour, but may also be in oils, ink or pencil, or a combination of these. The image may be life size or not, the scale is often shown, and may show the habit and habitat of the plant, the upper and reverse sides of leaves, and details of flowers, bud, seed and root system.

Franz Bauer Austrian microscopist and botanical artist (1758-1840)

Franz Andreas Bauer was an Austrian microscopist and botanical artist. The standard author abbreviation F.A.Bauer is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

Henry Cranke Andrews

Henry Cranke Andrews, was an English botanist, botanical artist and engraver. As he always published as Henry C. Andrews, and due to difficulty finding records, the C. was often referred to as Charles, until a record of his marriage registration was found in 2017.

<i>Flora Londinensis</i>

Flora Londinensis is a book that described the flora found in the London region of the mid 18th century. The Flora was published by William Curtis in six large volumes. The descriptions of the plants included hand-coloured copperplate plates by botanical artists such as James Sowerby, Sydenham Edwards and William Kilburn.

Botanical illustration

Botanical illustration is the art of depicting the form, color, and details of plant species, frequently in watercolor paintings. They must be scientifically accurate but often also have an artistic component and may be printed with a botanical description in books, magazines, and other media or sold as a work of art. Often composed in consultation with a scientific author, their creation requires an understanding of plant morphology and access to specimens and references.

Matilda Smith British botanical illustrator

Matilda Smith (1854–1926) was a botanical artist whose work appeared in Curtis's Botanical Magazine for over forty years. She became the first artist to depict New Zealand's flora in depth, the first official artist of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and the second woman to become an associate of the Linnaean Society. The standard author abbreviation M.Sm. is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

John Nugent Fitch

John Nugent Fitch was a British botanical illustrator and lithographer, best known for his contribution of 528 plates to The Orchid Album, a landmark work of eleven volumes published between 1872 and 1897. Fitch was the nephew of botanical artist Walter Hood Fitch (1817–1892). Fitch also contributed to Curtis's Botanical Magazine from 1878, joining a select group of illustrators such as William Kilburn, James Sowerby, Sydenham Edwards, William Jackson Hooker and Walter Hood Fitch. Fitch also produced plates for Lepidoptera Indica by Frederic Moore.

Harriet Anne Thiselton-Dyer

Lady Harriet Anne (Hooker) Thiselton-Dyer (1854–1945) was a British botanical illustrator.

Lilian Snelling British botanical illustrator

Lilian Snelling (1879–1972) was "probably the most important British botanical artist of the first half of the 20th century". She was the principal artist and lithographer to Curtis's Botanical Magazine between 1921 and 1952 and "was considered one of the greatest botanical artists of her time" – "her paintings were both detailed and accurate and immensely beautiful". She was appointed MBE in 1954 and was awarded the Victoria Medal in 1955. The standard author abbreviation Snelling is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

Frances Harriet Hooker

Frances Harriet Hooker was an English botanist.


  1. "Review of Curtis's ' Botanical Magazine.' Series 1–3. Vols. 1–123. London, 1787–1897". The Quarterly Journal. 188: 49–65. July 1898.
  2. "Curtis's Botanical Magazine". University of Glasgow. October 2004. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  3. "Early New Zealand Botanical Art: Matilda Smith (1854-1926)". University of Wellington website. Accessed 2015-08-17.
  4. Hemsley, W. Botting. "The History of the Botanical Magazine 1787–1904". In Index to the Botanical Magazine. London: Lovell Reeve & Co., 1906, pp. v–lxiii.
  5. Kramer, Jack 1996. Women of Flowers: A Tribute to Victorian Women Illustrators. New York, Stewart, Tabori & Chang. ISBN   1-55670-497-6
  6. Desmond, Ray, ed. Dictionary of British and Irish Botantists and Horticulturalists. CRC Press, 1994.
  7. Catherine Horwood Gardening Women: Their Stories From 1600 to the Present , p. 170, at Google Books
  8. Miss Lilian Snelling, Obituary, The Times, London, 17 October 1972 pg. 16, Issue 58607
  9. Ward, Marilyn and Rix, Martyn, Curtis's Botanical Magazine, vol. 23, 2006, pp. 256–258