Priscilla Susan Bury, Pl. 17 Crinum giganteum, hand-colored aquatint engraving, 1831–34
Bury’s text description for the plate reports that this flowering bulb is native to Africa. “...[T]he figure here represented, and which was obligingly presented by Charles Horsfall, Esq. of Everton, after it obtained a prize, at the meeting of the Liverpool Horticultural society, 30th of April 1929.”
Bury’s folio, A Selection of Hexandrian Plants, Belonging to the Natural Orders Amaryllidae and Liliacae, was engraved and hand-colored by Robert Havell, Jr, the same engraver who produced the plates for John James Audubon’s monumental work, Birds of America. Wilfred Blunt, author of The Art of Botanical Illustration, writes, “Mrs. Edward Bury…was the artist of the impressive Selection of Hexandrian Plants (1831–34), certainly one of the most effective color-plate folios of its period…. The “Hexandrian” flowers—lilies, crinums, pancratiums and hippeastriums—are executed in fine-grained aquatint, partly printed in colour, and retouched by hand.” All Bury prints are elephant folio size, (approximately 25 x 17 inches).
Mrs. Edward Bury (c. 1799–1870), née Priscilla Susan Falkner, was the daughter of a well-placed family. Exotic plants were grown in the hot houses at her family’s estate, Fairfield, near Liverpool, where as a young girl, she began painting flowers. The Victorian tradition viewed women illustrating flowers as “genteel, diverting and instructive study [so] that the fair sex could find amusement….” The talented Bury’s “Hexandrian” watercolor flower “portraits”, as she called them, were of lilies, crinums, pancratiums, and hippeastrums.
Bury was encouraged in her botanical painting pursuits by a local botanist, William Rowe, and her distinguished friends, the zoologist William Swainson and William Roscoe. She also received technical expertise from the staff at the Liverpool Botanical Gardens. Unlike her contemporaries, Pierre-Joseph Redouté or Pierre-Antoine Poiteau, Bury was not trained as a botanist or artist, yet she occupies a singular position in botanical art.
Her remarkable contribution, A Selection of Hexandrian Plants, Belonging to the Natural Orders Amaryllidae and Liliacae, depicts flowers with six stamens. Of elephant-size, it is the largest scale, most unusual and rarest of all nineteenth-century botanicals. Comprised of 51 aquatint engravings produced in ten parts from 1831 to 1834 by renowned London engraver, Robert Havell, Jr., these rich aquatint engravings are partly printed in color and partly hand-colored. Also the publisher of this work, Havell produced Bury’s folio at the same time that he was engraving Audubon’s plates. John James Audubon was listed among the subscribers to this splendid nineteenth-century botanical folio. Only 79 subscriptions were sold.
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