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INDIAN SCHOOL (19TH CENTURY), William Roxburgh, Boerhaania diffusa

INDIAN SCHOOL (19TH CENTURY), William Roxburgh, Boerhaania diffusa

  • $ 7,500.00

Commissioned By William Roxburgh
Boerhaania diffusa
From a collection drawings of Indian plants
Pen and ink and watercolor drawings on wove paper. Most captioned in pencil and some in red ink giving the Roxburgh species name.
Inscribed upper right in ink 36 and in pencil 63
[Calcutta: ca 1812-1814]
Paper size: 9 ¼ x 6 ½ in.
Frame size: 18 ¾ x 16 in.

Commissioned By William Roxburgh

Provenance: commissioned by William Roxburgh (1751–1815); with the red ink library stamp of the East India Company on the verso of some plates. Massachusetts Horticultural Society (small stamp on each watercolor; sold, Christie’s New York, December 18, 2002, lot 109).

Much development in Botany took place during the British Empire in India. Linnaean system of ‘Binomial nomenclature’ was introduced only in 1778 by the natural historian engaged with the British East India Company. During this period, botanical gardens were being founded in every significant city in India to study the natural history of the plants. Many botanists and surveyors were recruited by East India Company to report and record Indian flora. One such botanist of this period and the founding father of Indian botany by his contemporaries was William Roxburgh.      

William Roxburgh was born on June 29th, 1751. He enrolled at Edinburgh University in 1771-1772 to study surgery under Dr. Alexender Monro. Further, he was also the student of Dr. John Hope, professor of botany and materia medica. Roxburgh reached Madras (now Chennai) in 1776 as an assistant surgeon in the East India Company’s Madras General Hospital. For the period 1776-1793, he worked at Coromandel Coast; during this period, he also met Johann Gerhard Konig (pupil of Linnaeus, who introduced binomial nomenclature in India). In 1789 he was appointed as the natural historian of East Indian India Company. He moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to be the superintendent of the Botanic Garden, the present Indian Botanical Garden at Sheopur, Howrah, and Kolkata. Working here, he started getting world-wide recognition as a botanist. He was instrumental in introducing many plants and species to India, and simultaneously he sent many species to Kew, London. His Voluminous work, ‘Flora Indica’ was published after his death. Roxburgh left for England from Calcutta in 1813 at the age of 62 spending some 37 years in India. He died at Edinburgh in 1815.

Roxburgh described some 2,600 species of plants between 1793 and 1813 while he was the superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden. Though his descriptions were published posthumously in the Flora Indica, this work was unillustrated. In total, only 700, a small percentage of the many drawings done for him were eventually published, appearing in his Plants of the Coast of Coromandel and also in Robert Wight’s Icones Plantarum Indiae Orientalis. The present group of unpublished watercolors were drawn by local Indian artists and are highly likely to have been commissioned by Roxburgh. Other sets of unpublished drawings executed by Indian artists exist, most in folio format. The most complete are those in the Calcutta Botanic Garden and a duplicate set sent to the East India Company, now at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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