The American Cowslip
Colour aquatint and engravingpublished 1 May 1804
About the work
This illustration is from botanical author Dr Robert John Thornton’s great work: ‘New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus’ (published 1799-1807). Thornton spared no expense in the production of the lavish publication, better known by its 1804 title ‘The Temple of Flora’. Although based on a dissertation about the sexes of plants by Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Thornton added his own notes before publishing the work in parts.
‘The Temple of Flora’ was the most sumptuous botanical publication ever produced. Thornton, who had trained as a dentist, practised botanical painting himself but only included one of his own designs, ‘Roses’. Instead he commissioned several artists, including Philip Reinagle, Peter Henderson and Abraham Pether, to produce illustrations set against landscapes or allegoric backgrounds. In some instances the backgrounds do not relate to the flowers. For example, Reinagle’s Jamaican ‘Night-Blooming Cereus’ is set against a moonlit view of an English church. The high production costs of the publication led to financial disaster for Thornton and, in spite of the renown of the book, he died in poverty.
About the artist
Thomas Warner was a line and mixed-method engraver of plates for Dr. Thornton’s ‘Temple of Flora’. He also produced small bookplates.
Peter Charles Henderson is best-known for his designs for 14 plates for the writer on botany R. J. Thornton’s work ‘Temple of Flora’ (1804). Henderson also illustrated ‘The Seasons, or Flower-Garden’, which included his own ‘Treatise of General Instruction for Drawing and Painting Flowers’ (1806). He exhibited genre scenes, portraits (including miniatures), still lifes and botanical illustrations in London between 1799 and 1829 at the Royal Academy, the British Institution and the Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street. Financial difficulties may have necessitated his many changes of address. Although he moved between ten different London addresses during this period, Henderson remained in the area just north of Oxford Street.