James Sowerby (1757–1822)
London-born James Sowerby was a gifted illustrator who studied at the Royal Academy, moving from portraits to studies of natural history. His interests were wide-ranging, from mineralogy to palaeontology, though he concentrated on botanical study and illustration, as shown in his great work English Botany (1790–1814), with James Edward Smith (1759–1828), founder of the Linnean Society. A periodical, it consists of 36 issues and features almost 2,500 beautiful illustrations, described by Smith, a recognised botanical authority and ‘heir’ to Carl Linnaeus’s taxonomic throne. Sowerby both drew the illustrations and engraved the plates for this mammoth publication.
Within our archives we hold a wealth of important scientific and artistic documents, some of which are even pivotal. The Society holds Sowerby’s sketch, colour tests and final watercolour proof of tab. 15 for Robert Brown’s paper On the Organs and Mode of Fecundation in Orchideae and Asclepiadeae in the Transactions of the Linnean Society (1823–33) which both named, and offered the first descriptions of, the nucleus of plant cells.