James Sowerby: the Enlightenment’s Natural Historian

James Sowerby: the Enlightenment’s Natural Historian

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James Sowerby: the Enlightenment’s Natural Historian

James Sowerby (1757-1822) was an outstanding artist and natural historian, renowned for his discoveries and prodigious output of beautiful, scientific books of plants, fungi, animals, fossils and minerals, all at a key historical time; the age of Enlightenment in Great Britain. Beautifully illustrated with artwork and letter and manuscript extracts, this first full biography of Sowerby is a fascinating artistic and historical account, which extends beyond that of one key player.


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Description

Description

James Sowerby (1757-1822) was an outstanding artist and natural historian, renowned for his discoveries and prodigious output of beautiful, scientific books of plants, fungi, animals, fossils and minerals, all at a key historical time; the age of Enlightenment in Great Britain. He was active in the period between the death of Linnaeus (the father of modern taxonomy) and the rise of Charles Darwin - a time of burgeoning interest about the natural world as well as of much social change. Sowerby became one of, if not the, most knowledgeable natural historians of his generation as well as one of the best botanical artists (alongside Redouté and Ehret). His work has had a lasting legacy both through its artistic merit and its scientific value.


James Sowerby rose from humble beginnings to become an outstanding and prolific natural historian of his time. His colourful but challenging life reveals an intriguing world of opportunity, prejudice, cooperation and discovery. Through his remarkable artistic skills and enthusiasm for all natural history he became indispensable to the principal network of scientists and collectors. Importantly, Sowerby’s exquisite drawings and engravings are both beautiful and taxonomically accurate.


He dramatically improved our understanding of plants, as well as of fungi, minerals, meteorites, fossils and animals. New species were described by him, experiments about light and colour were made, learned societies were supported, his museum was established, and lords and ladies were given instruction on drawing. No one else has matched his achievement. He was a patriarch of a long line of natural historians and he left a sustained and invaluable legacy much used and appreciated to the present day.


Beautifully illustrated with artwork and letter and manuscript extracts, this first full biography of Sowerby is a fascinating artistic and historical account, which extends beyond that of one key player.


'A first-class biography.' William Noblett, Archives of Natural History 


Garden Media Guild Inspirational Book of the Year 2016


Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries annual literature awards: Award of Excellence in Biography


Judge Charlotte Tancin, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation said: “It’s wonderful that Henderson has written a biography of this interesting man, telling not only about his life and work but also about the scholarly world in which he operated and the networks of various types of natural history enthusiasts of which he was a part.  Great book, well-illustrated, a good contribution to the history of natural history and of botany.”


 

Additional Info

Additional Info

  1. Author: Paul Henderson
  2. 304pp. 150 colour illustrations, 30 b/w illustrations. 246 x 186mm. Hardback
  3. ISBN 978 1 84246 596 7
  4. Kew Publishing in association with the Natural History Museum, 2015

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