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John Hunter’s Watercolour Floral Paintings: 1801

26 May 2017

Geraldine O'Driscoll

Hunter's floral watercolours - title pageThis is a beautiful bound volume of watercolour paintings which is believed to have been the property of anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793).

Although the title page suggests that it was presented to the College by Dr Mathew Baillie and Everard Home (executors of Hunter’s will) in 1801, an interesting note added by William Clift, in his exquisite handwriting, says “These paintings in water-colours had been Mr Hunter’s Property; and were not the Gift of the Executors”.

Clift has little time for the College Bookbinder who bound the loose pages and declares they have “done it in a very slovenly manner, by disarranging, misplacing and inverting several of the descriptions; and stamping the arms half-way through the volume”.

Hunter's floral watercolours - William Clift's note

The volume itself consists of 19 beautiful watercolours of floral images and includes a useful index done by Clift in 1837. It is a bound with dark red leather on the spine and corners; the spine also has intricate gold floral detail, and is titled Paintings by Agricola. There is also a hand written note saying “Paintings & drawings by Agricola an eminent Italian painter”. This is believed to be in John Hunter’s hand.

Hunter's floral watercoloursHunter's floral watercolours III

A pencil note in the volume by William Le Fanu, the College Librarian (1904-1995), casts doubt on it being the work of Agricola: “Probably the drawings are by Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826) or possibly his brother Franz Andreas Bauer (1758-1890) both of whom worked in London in the later years of Hunter’s life”.

Hunter's floral watercolours IIHunter's floral watercolours XIX

The Bauer brothers were both extremely skilled in botanical illustration. Franz was employed by Sir Joseph Banks as the first resident artist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Banks also employed Ferdinand to act as artist on HMS Investigator on her voyage around Australia from 1801-1805.

Most likely we will never know for sure, but what is certain is that the watercolours are stunningly beautiful works of art.

See our previous post on Botany and Surgeons.

Geraldine O’Driscoll, Library & Archives Assistant

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