Essay on flower painting (1810) now on exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art

September 29th, 2012

A book from Special Collections entitled A practical essay on flower painting in water colours by Edward Pretty (London: For S. and J. Fuller 1810) is currently on exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison, as part of The Golden Age of British Watercolors, 1790–1910 ( 
As Pretty explained, “Flower Painting has at length become a particular study; and when we consider the immense field laid open to us, what can be more gratifying than an opportunity of copying nature in her gayest and most fanciful decorations! The variety and abundance of the Vegetable part of the Creation has engaged the attention and called forth the pencils of many Artists. The necessity of an Improved Essay on Flower Painting is obvious.” To demonstrate how colors “may be produced by a judicious mixture” of three basic colors, his “Tablet of Colours” showed degrees of shading with Indian ink and laid out both “Primitive Colours” and “Tints & Compounds [sic] Tints.” 
The final version of the engraving chosen for the exhibition at the Chazen depicts three roses in fully-colored form; to make clear the progression, we show here all three versions (without color, with some color, and with full color) as included in our copy of the book: 
Pretty envisaged more entrepreneurial opportunity, “should this Essay meet with encouragement from a generous and discerning Public.” He proposed to publish a supplement containing “highly-finished Groups of Flowers” for those who had completed study of A practical essay, promoting the project by exhibiting his original drawings “at the Publishers, for the receiving of Names of Subscribers.” WorldCat shows no copy of that supplement, however. 
The Department of Special Collections was able to acquire Pretty’s Essay through the generosity of the Reeder Family Fund. 
The exhibition at the Chazen Museum also includes three other books from the Department of Special Collections:
  • Sir John Barrow, Travels in China, 2nd ed. (London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies), 1806.
  • George Brookshaw, A new treatise on flower painting, or, Every lady her own drawing master [etc.]. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown [etc.], 1818) from the Thordarson Collection.  A digital facsimile made possible by the Chipstone Foundation is also available through UW Digital Collections ( 
  • In fairy land: A series of pictures from the elf-world  by Richard Doyle; with a poem by William Allingham (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1870), gift of Ada Margaret Stoflet.
For more on the The Golden Age of British Watercolors, 1790–1910, see