Jane Loudon (nee Webb) (1807–58) was to Victorian gardening what Mrs Beeton was to cookery. Her beautifully illustrated books on gardening and plant identification sold in their thousands and women all over the country were enthused enough by them to take up gardening as a hobby.
Although now really only known for her non-fiction work, her first work, published before she married, was The Mummy, Tales from the Twenty-Second Century, a futuristic look at potential improvements to living in Britain that she wrote to make ends meet as an impecunious orphan. One of these innovations, a steam plough, caught the attention of horticultural publisher and writer John Loudon who met, courted and married her within seven months. They began to work together on John's books and in their own extensive garden. Jane, by her own admission,knew nothing about botany, 'It is scarcely possible to imagine any person more completely ignorant of everything relating to botany than I was at the period of my marriage with Mr Loudon,' but her husband was enthusiastic and expert and she soon became a meticulous, capable gardener ready to aid him with his books.
Loudon's greatest work was the epic Encyclopaedia of Gardening. Jane assisted him with research and note taking, adding to her own knowledge as she went along. It gradually occurred to her that the technical terms and descriptions were rather off-putting to new gardeners, particularly women, who although literate and interested had often not been well schooled in the sciences. Instructions in Gardening for Ladies was published by her in 1840. It was precise and correct but written in an anecdotal style which made it easy to follow; more than 200,000 copies were sold. The opening remark in her introduction to Botany for Ladies (1842) reads, 'The following pages are intended to enable my readers to acquire knowledge of Botany with as little trouble to themselves as possible.'
Other books soon followed: the four-volume The Ladies' Flower-Garden(1840–8), The Ladies' Companion to the Flower-Garden (1841), British Wild Flowers (1846), and The Amateur Gardener's Calendar1847).
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘Plain Instructions in Gardening'. 11th edition
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘Plain Instructions in Gardening'. 11th edition, published by John Murray, London, 1874, NAL pressmark REN 635 LOU.Pl.1874. (Page 69)
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), 'The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals'
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), 'The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals', published by William Smith, London, 1842, NAL Pressmark: A.92. (Plate 12 'Iberis')
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals’
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals’, published William Smith, London, 1842, NAL Pressmark: A.92. (Plate 25 ‘Anagallis’)
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants’. 3rd edition
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants’. 3rd edition, published by William Smith, London, 1848, NAL Pressmark: A.71.3 (Plate 9 ‘Marianthus’)
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘Botany for Ladies’
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘Botany for Ladies’, published by John Murray, London, 1842, NAL Pressmark: Forster 12mo 5493. (Page 320)
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘Botany for Ladies’
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘Botany for Ladies’, published by John Murray, London, 1842. NAL Pressmark: Forster 12mo 5493. (Page 321)
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘British Wild Flowers’
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), ‘British Wild Flowers’, published by William S. Orr, London, 1846, NAL pressmark: SD.92.0031. (Plate 13)
Jane Loudon (1807-1858), Watercolour found in copy of ‘British wildflowers’
Jane Loudon (1807-1858)
Watercolour found in copy of ‘British wildflowers’
Once owned by Morton Sundour Fabrics Ltd.
The National Art Library's collection of books by Jane Loudon includes a copy of British Wild Flowers owned by Morton Sundour Fabrics Ltd, producers of floral patterned material. It contains a small watercolour design similar to one of Jane's paintings and shows that her work was being used as source material well into the 20th Century.
By this time Jane, a self taught artist, had begun to illustrate her own books. Her style, which involved grouping the flowers to form bouquets made her designs popular to copy as well as being used for decoupage on trays, lampshades and tables. She made full use of the new technique of chromolithography which made print production much faster and enabled her to increase her output.
John Loudon's fortunes however, had taken a downward turn whenan arboretum he planned and planted left the family nearly penniless. His health, which was always fragile, declined rapidly until he died aged 60 in 1843. Jane's response was to work harder than ever. Her output of books increased and she took on other work to supplement her income and pay off some of the debts.
Her own early success came to an abrupt end in 1848 when she was asked to resign as editor from The Ladies' Companion at Home and Abroad. It coincided with a decline in the sales of her books and her financial situation became so desperate that she was obliged to ask for money from the civil list. She died virtually penniless in 1858 aged 51.
Jane Loudon's influence is difficult to exaggerate. She made gardening accessible and managed to communicate her own enthusiasm in a very practical, useful way. Through her books, gardening came to be regarded as a recreational activity for everyone.
Female botanical illustrators
Jane Loudon was one of the most successful of a number of talented women botanical illustrators whose work is highly regarded now but which had mixed fortunes during their lifetimes. The National Art Library's collection includes work by many of them.
Elizabeth Blackwell (1700-1758) , ‘Herbarium Blackwellianum emendatum et auctum est Collectio Stirpium’
Elizabeth Blackwell (1700-1758)
'Herbarium Blackwellianum emendatum et auctum est Collectio Stirpium'
Published by Norimbergae: Typis Joseph Freischmanni
NAL Pressmark: 48.B.19 (Plate 561 'Aconitum magnum')
Elizabeth Blackwell was the author of 'A Curious Herbal' a book used by the medical students of the day as the definitive guide to all medicinal plants. She was able to engrave and hand colour the prints herself and worked tirelessly to make money for her husband who was in prison. When he was executed in 1747, she stopped working and appears to have died alone.
Maria Sybylla Merian (1647-1717), ‘Over de voortteeling en wonderbaerlyke’
Maria Sybylla Merian (1647-1717)
'Over de voortteeling en wonderbaerlyke'
Published by J.F. Barnard
NAL Pressmark: 48.E.9. (Plate 37 ).
Maria Sibylla Merian married an artist but was obliged to fend for herself through painting and embroidery commissions when the union went bad. Although her main interest was insects her plant illustrations are second to none and were sought after even during her lifetime.
Clara Maria Pope (1768-1838) , ‘A monograph on the genus Camellia’
Clara Maria Pope (1768-1838)
'A monograph on the genus Camellia'
Published by J.&A.A. Cornhill
(NAL Pressmark: 110.A.22). 'Anemone flowered or Waratah camellia'.
Clara Popewas a gifted miniaturist and portraitist who exhibited at the Royal Academy, but it was her botanical illustrations which meant the most to her. After contributing to Botanical Magazine she was asked by William Curtis to illustrate his monumental work A monograph on the genus Camellia. Although these beautiful, detailed paintings are as accomplished as any of her contemporaries, Clara Pope's name is now largely forgotten.
Anne Pratt (1806-1893), ‘The field
Anne Pratt (1806-1893)
'The field, the garden and the woodland'
Published by C. Knight,
NAL Pressmark: Forster 12mo 7140. (Page 20).
Anne Pratt managed to make a good living from her work during her eighty seven years. She was a prolific author and illustrator and all of her books sold well. Her illustrations, although sometimes criticised for lack of botanical detail, show great technical skill and have now become collector's items.
Charlotte Sowerby (1820-1865), ‘The illustrated bouquet
Charlotte Sowerby (1820-1865)
'The illustrated bouquet, consisting of figures with descriptions of new flowers Vol. 1'
Published by E.G. Henderson & Son
NAL Pressmark: 48.B.29
(Plate XXV 'Gladiolus').
Almost nothing is known of Charlotte Sowerby, except that she was one of a talented family of botanical artists and that she produced illustrations of the highest standard.
Augusta Withers (1792-1869) ‘The illustrated bouquet, consisting of figures with descriptions of new flowers Vol. 3’
Augusta Withers (1792-1869)
'The illustrated bouquet, consisting of figures with descriptions of new flowers Vol. 3'
Published by E.G. Henderson & Son
NAL Pressmark: 48.B.31 (Plate LXXVIII 'Methonica')
When Augusta Withers died destitute and alone in 1869, her work was largely unacknowledged and valueless, but she was perhaps one of the greatest of all the illustrators, able to tackle any kind of plant and flower. In her prime she produced hundreds of drawings and paintings for journals and worked on the colossal Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala by James Bateman.