Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708–70)
Bull Bay, Magnolia grandiflora
Watercolour and gouache on vellum
Museum no. D.583-1886
An outstandingly successful botanical artist, Ehret was well-connected to study new species in private collections. The magnolia first flowered in Europe in the garden of Sir Charles Wager at Parson's Green. Ehret walked from his home in Chelsea to draw it and studied each stage of the unfolding flower to make 'a perfect botanical study.' Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) was the first scientist to classify plants not according to the way people used them, but by physical similarities between their reproductive parts. The influence of this new system is apparent in these drawings. They focus on the flowers and are represented according to the standard conventions of botanical illustration in silhouette against a white ground. Ehret, though, always favoured the pictorial rather than the diagrammatic style of botanical illustration and here he has painted the seedpod in Magnolia with shadows as if they were actually lying on the page. The caption reflects the older method of using a string of descriptive Latin terms.
This drawing can be found in Print Room Box DP2.