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ROXBURGH, William (1751-1815). A SUPERB ORIGINAL WATERCOLOUR DRAWING OF Jasminum elangata, commonly known as Ear-leaf Jasmine, by an unnamed local Indian artist, commissioned by William Roxburgh

ROXBURGH, William (1751-1815). A SUPERB ORIGINAL WATERCOLOUR DRAWING OF Jasminum elangata, commonly known as Ear-leaf Jasmine, by an unnamed local Indian artist, commissioned by William Roxburgh


Single leaf, wove paper, watermarked, float-mounted and framed (9 4/8 x 6 4/8 inches). A fine original watercolour drawing of Jasmine with exquisite and very detailed vignettes in pencil of the flower and seed, surrounded by a double filet black ink border, captioned in pencil, and numbered "19" in ink.


Provenance: commissioned by William Roxburgh (1751-1815); with the small ink library stamp of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society their sale, Christie's New York, 18 December 2002, lot 109.

A beautiful white flowering climbing plant, this Jasmine is found growing wild throughout India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and northern Australia. Roxburgh illustrates this plant and describes it in his "Flora Indica" in volume one, page 90: "A native of the forests about Hidgelee, near the mouth of the Iloogly in Bengal. Flowering time the beginning of the hot season"

The forests of India were among some of the richest resources of the British colonies, and while the history of collecting and scientific study of natural specimens throughout India in the days of the British Empire and the East India Company can be attributed to British colonialism and the growth of scientific curiosity and the Age of Enlightenment in Britain, the converse is also true. India with its diverse landscapes, fauna and flora, and Britain's other colonies in exotic and tropical places, helped to create an increased interest in the study of natural history and scientific collecting in Britain and throughout the old world. The East India Company was very quick to respond to this increased interest in natural curiosities and set up the first museum in India. The magnificent Indian collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has its origins in the India Museum, founded by the East India Company in 1798. When this collection was dispersed in 1879, much of the collection, especially the textiles and decorative arts, went to the South Kensington Museum.

The Indian Civil Services brought many British naturalists to India: some were sponsored by British and other European naturalists and museums, but many others worked entirely on their own; both were assisted by professional botanists such as Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), John Gerard Koenig (1728-1785), Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854) and William Roxburgh (1751-1815).

This particularly beautiful drawing, by a local Indian artist, was commissioned by the last, and possibly the greatest of these, William Roxburgh.

Roxbugh was born at Underwood, Craigie, Ayrshire, on the 3rd June, 1751. Initially educated at his local village school, he earned a place at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied botany under Professor John Hope (1725-1786). With Hope's help and influence, Roxburgh was appointed surgeon's mate on one of the famous East India Company's ships in May of 1766. He made several voyages to India and after completing his medical studies at Edinburgh, Roxburgh was made assistant surgeon at the company's Madras post in 1776. Although primarily occupied as a surgeon he became friendly with Johann Gerhard Koenig (1728-1785), who was naturalist to the nawab of Arcot and from 1778 to the Madras presidency, a post in which Roxburgh would succeed him in 1790. Koenig probably arrived in India in 1768 as physician and naturalist to the Danish settlement at Tranquebar in the Carnatic. He had been a pupil and a prolific correspondent of Linnaeus, but most importantly he introduced Linnaean methodology to India and encouraged Roxburgh in his botanical studies. Roxburgh would be elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1799.

In addition to finding, collecting and discovering the useful properties of plants in India, the East India Company was also interested in introducing potential cash crops to India. In 1781 Roxburgh was stationed at Samulcotta, some 200 miles north of Madras. "The climate and the apparent fertility of the soil around Samulcotta led him to
believe that pepper and coffee could be grown there commercially. He was allowed to establish experimental gardens where he planted black pepper which grew wild in the hills to the north of the town. By 1787 he had 4000 pepper plants in cultivation and by 1789 between 40,000 and 50,000.... He also grew coffee, sugar-cane, mulberry, and breadfruit. Some years later he stated that had his plantations not been successful he would have returned to Scotland to seek more remunerative employment" (Desmond).

In his spare time Roxburgh botanized. The idea of publishing illustrations, with an emphasis on species "medicine, arts, or manufacture", had been proposed by the physician and naturalist Patrick Russell (1727-1805) who preceded Roxburgh as botanist to the East India Company. Russell had first sought approval from the Company for a "work limited to the useful plants of the Coromandel". He eventually wrote the Preface to Roxburgh's 'Plants of the Coast of Coromandel', a project begun in October 1789 when Roxburgh had two local Indian artists draw some of the plants he had collected. Roxburgh was the obvious candidate for the official post of naturalist in the Madras presidency (once held by his friend Koenig) when it became vacant in 1789, following the retirement of Russell. The East India Company in London approved the appointment in 1790.

In 1793 Roxburgh became the first salaried superintendent of the Royal Botanic Garden in Calcutta. "In September 1790 Roxburgh sent the first of several consignments of flower drawings by his native artists together with descriptive notes and remarks on their use by Indians to Sir Joseph Banks. When Banks had received some 500 drawings by the summer of 1794, he suggested to the company that a selection of those of particular value to commerce and medicine should be engraved and published. Patrick Russell had first proposed the idea for such a work, confined to Coromandel (the east coast of Madras), the area where the plants were found, and he had nominated Banks as the best person to advise on the project. The company sponsored its publication and 'Plants of the Coast of Coromandel' appeared in twelve folio parts between May 1795 and February 1820. Each of its 300 engravings had taxonomic descriptions and information on native uses in agriculture, food, and medicine" (Desmond).

Roxburgh himself described some 2,600 species of plants while he was in charge of the Calcutta Botanic Garden, and when he left India for good in 1813 he gave the manuscript of his 'Hortus Bengalensis' to a friend at the Baptist mission in Serampore, William Carey, who was also allowed to make a copy of the manuscript of Roxburgh's 'Flora Indica'. "Carey, who had a printing press in order to publish the Bible in Indian languages, printed in 1813 'A catalogue of plants described by Dr Roxburgh in his MSS Flora Indica', but not yet introduced into the botanical garden. This was distributed in 1814 bound with the 'Hortus Bengalensis', which listed 1510 species cultivated in the botanic garden, adding the country of origin. Europeans resident in India were the principal donors but a number of plants had come from Canton, North America, the West Indies, and Britain" (Ray Desmond for DNB). Though Roxbugh's own descriptions of the plants he commissioned drawings of were eventually published posthumously in the 'Flora Indica', the work was not illustrated, and in total only 700, a very small percentage of the many drawings created for him, were actually published, appearing in his 'Plants of the Coast of Coromandel' and also in Robert Wight's 'Icones plantarum Indiae Orientalis'.

Several sets of the original drawings, like this one, were made for distribution. The most complete set is still in the Calcutta Botanic Garden and a duplicate set was sent to the East India Company, now house at Kew.

Roxburgh died back in Edinburgh in February, 1815 and was buried in Greyfriars churchyard in the city. A memorial has been erected to him in the Royal Botanic Garden. Jonas Dryander created a living memorial to him by dedicating the genus Roxburghia, an evergreen Indian climber which was said to symbolize the manner in which he had made Indian botany his 'ladder of success'.

1016 72wcd90 watercolour closet

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