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Bolton, James, active 1775–1795

Collection of drawings depicting specimens from the natural history cabinet of Anna Blackburne.

Great Britain, circa 1768.
Physical Description:
20 drawings : watercolor and gouache over graphite on parchment.
Rare Books and Manuscripts
Folio A 2016 25
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund, in honor of Jane and Richard C. Levin, President of Yale University (1993-2013)
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Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Drawings & Watercolors
"The most notable publications by the naturalist/artist James Bolton (1735-1799) were his pioneering books on English ferns and fungi, and he is acknowledged as one of the preeminent British specialists on the latter, of which he discovered many new species. His watercolors, however, evoke his Harmonia Ruralis, which he dedicated 'To the British Ladies, to Naturalists, and to all such as admire the Beauty or Melody of the Feathered Warblers,' offering it as a handy field guide to those interested in identifying local species. The lively scenes of birds in natural settings, often with their eggs, or colorful groups of plants, insects and shells, such as that on the cover, follow in the footsteps of such naturalists/artists as Mark Catesby and Maria Sybilla Merian, who set a style for depicting flora and fauna engaged with their environments. But the drawings also emulate those same artists' willingness sometimes to intermingle flora and fauna from disparate regions, such as mixing shells from the Indo-Pacific region with insects and butterflies from North and South America, to create aesthetically pleasing productions that owe as much to the naturalists' cabinet as they do to observations of nature: in this case the museum or cabinet of the noted naturalist Anna Blackburne, who likely commissioned these images from Bolton. Just as many of the artists in the current exhibition have created imaginary worlds for their creatures to inhabit, so Bolton in these drawings created a world that brings together flora and fauna in a way that they would never have mingled in nature, while still depicting them faithfully and exactingly enough to serve as recognizable and accurate examples of their type."--Lisa Ford, Of Green Leaf, page 150.
Provenance: Anna Blackburne, Orford Hall; John Blackburne, Hale Hall.
Of green leaf, bird, and flower: artists' books and the natural world, pages 4, 13, 113, 116, 139, 150, 154, 229
Twenty watercolors, drawn on parchment around 1768, by the naturalist-artist James Bolton (1735-1799), from the natural history cabinet of noted botanist and collector Anna Blackburne (1740-1793). The watercolors depict some 15 birds, 18 plants, 28 butterflies, 26 insects and 15 shells. Specimens local to Great Britain are illustrated, but most of the butterflies, shells and insects are exotic in nature, with many examples from North and South America. For example, the butterflies include an illustration of Parides ascanius, a rare species native of Brazil; the shells include Cypraecassis testiculus (native of Bermuda, North Carolina, and other parts of the Americas), Voluta musica (native of the West Indies), and Semicassis granulata (native of North Carolina and elsewhere -- and not named until 1778, ten years after this drawing); the insects include a longhorned beetle, Chlorida festiva (found in Mexico and the West Indies), and most notably, the beetle Geotrupes Blackburnii, a North American beetle named by Fabricius in 1781 in Anna Blackburne's honor and no doubt based upon the specimen pictured here. The birds include a crossbill, a goldfinch, a nuthatch, and others; the plants include many berry-bearing examples, though most notable is a depiction of a Lady's slipper orchid, which was known to have been grown in John Blackburne's garden.
It is believed that these drawings were commissioned by Anna Blackburne and executed by Bolton upon a visit to Orford Hall in 1768 or 1769. Letters by Bolton confirm that he was in Warrington in the summer of 1768 and again in 1769. Prior to the discovery of the present watercolors, Bolton's visit to Orford Hall was known by an image of Adiantum capillus-veneris in his Felices Britannicae, published in 1785, in which he attributes the image to have come from a drawing of a plant in "the extensive collection of rare and valuable plants in the rich and beautiful garden of the worthy John Blackburne." See: John Edmondson, James Bolton of Halifax (1985).
Anna Blackburne's source for natural history specimens seems largely to have been her brother Ashton Blackburne. In a 1771 letter to Linnaeus, she writes: "Having a Bro. who lives near New York in North America, who annually enriches my cabinet with the productions of that country, if it wou'd be agreeable to you I wou'd send you a few birds & insects, which I believe are not in your Sys. Nat.ae ..." (see V.P. Wystrach, "Anna Blackburne (1726-1793) -- a neglected patroness of natural history", in the Journal of the society for the bibliography of natural history, vol. 8, no. 2 (1977), pp. 148-168). The existence and nature of Anna Blackburne's museum by this early period is confirmed by Thomas Pennant, who visited her collection in 1772: "Mrs. Blackburne ... extends her researches still farther, and adds to her empire another kingdom: not content with the botanic, she causes North America to be explored for its animals, and has formed a museum from the other side of the Atlantic, as pleasing as it is instructive ..." (Pennant, A tour in Scotland and voyage to the Hebrides, [1774]).
Subject Terms:
Birds -- Pictorial works.
Blackburne, Anna, 1740-1793.
Blackburne, John, 1754-1833.
Butterflies -- Pictorial works.
Flowers -- Pictorial works.
Insects -- Pictorial works.
Shells -- Pictorial works.
Women in natural history.
Botanical illustrations.
Ornithological illustrations.
Scientific illustrations.
Blackburne, Anna, 1740-1793.
IIIF Manifest:

"Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower" : Artists' Books and the Natural World (Yale Center for British Art, May 15, 2014-August 10, 2014) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

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