Illustrations in the RBGE Library & Archives

With both historical and contemporary works, the Illustrations Collection of the Library and Archives of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) provides an illustrated timeline of the development of botanical art from the late 17th century through to the present day, including original works by artists such as Lilian Snelling, John Nugent Fitch, Stephen Caine, William Hooker and Margaret Stones. The Collection also provides an insight into the history of the Garden through illustrations commissioned by several of its Regius Keepers, notably John Hope and John Hutton Balfour, and by artists that are particularly associated with the organisation including Robert Kaye Greville, Eve Bennett and Rodella Purves.

In addition to the collections of original drawings and paintings, the Collection includes teaching diagrams and posters, nature prints and architectural plans of the Garden. There is also a substantial photographic collection including works by Anna Atkins, Joseph Rock, George Forrest and Robert Moyes Adam, and more than 60,000 photographic slides and glass-plate negatives.

The Library and Archives are lucky to have a dedicated group of volunteers who are helping us to create the collection listings and / or finding aids for individual collections that are available from this page. We are very grateful to them for their efforts which are helping us to open up this unique resource to a wider audience.


Contemporary Collection

This collection consists of works by artists working primarily in the 20th century to date. It continues to grow and develop through acquisitions, commissioned works and donations and includes works by artists who have studied on one of the Garden's botanical art programmes.

The collection of contemporary botanical art includes works by the following artists:

  • Claire Banks - winner of the Jill Smythies Award from the Linnean Society of London in 2015; a collection of 24 pen and ink drawings of Podocarpus spp. drawn between December 2013 and March 2014 
  • Eve Reid Bennett (1936-2006) - Eve taught botanical illustration for many years at RBGE, and left the Garden many examples of her work, especially of the genera Rhododendron and Tacca (index to collection)
  • Mary Benstead - see Drawings of plants from the woods and forests of Chile
  • Sharon Bradley - Rhododendron kesangiae var. Kesangiae (subsection Grandia), Clark & Sinclair1 662 19902777C, pencil and watercolour, ca. 2008. Original work for the RBGE Diploma in Botanical Illustration
  • Stephen Caine - collection of 10 carbon pencil drawings of fossil plants inspird by the fossil plant collection at the National Museum of Scotlandn and the Spitsbergen fossil tertiary flora illustrated by Carl Hedlin (1861-1894) for the Swedish Museum of Natural History
  • Drawings of plants from the woods and forests of Chile - A collection of 81 original drawings by Mary Benstead, Gülnur Ekşi, Işık Guner and Hülya Korkmaz for the work Plants from the woods and forests of Chile published by the RBGE in 2015
  • Gülnur Ekşi - see Drawings of plants from the woods and forests of Chile
  • Caroline Greevers - Spring Flowers (Complex composition for the RBGE Diploma in Botanical Illustration, 2009)
  • Işık Guner - see Drawings of plants from the woods and forests of Chile
  • Bessie Darling Inglis (1902-1999)- Original artwork (71 items of 84 done) for a work on ‘Plants of the Bible’ planned by Thomas Nelson & Sons, Edinburgh, with text by Harold R. Fletcher (1907-1978), RBGE Regius Keeper (1956-1970). Inglis illustrated other books published by Nelsons, and also did work for the National Trust for Scotland.
  • Hülya Korkmaz - see Drawings of plants from the woods and forests of Chile
  • Jill M. McDougall
  • Prof. David Mann (1953- ) - a senior Research Scientist at RBGE since 1990. In addition to his scientific research David has produced a range of art inspired by his work on algae including the Phycographia series of prints that explore novel imagery based on microscopic material; the RBGE collection consists of a set of the 16 mezzotints from this series.
  • Gillian A. Meadows
  • Mary Mendum [née Bates] (1945-2004) - A member of the RBGE staff, though not employed as an artist, Mary made many b/w drawings and watercolours to illustrate books and research papers by colleagues, including many rhododendrons and plates for the Flora of Bhutan.
  • Christina Oliver
  • Louise Olley
  • Jacqui Pestell, M.B.E. & Sharon Tingey - Thangka painting featuring endemic, medicinal, useful and invasive plants from Nepal, 2016. Inspired by the stylised plants portrayed in traditional Tibetan thangka (also known as tangka, thanka and tanka) paintings still made by artisans in Kathmandu during a visit to Nepal in March 2015, Jacqui and Sharon worked with the RBGE Flora of Nepal team to create this work for the Flora of Nepal exhibition that ran in the John Hope Gateway from the 6th August to the 6th November 2016. The work incorporated drawings of individual plants by Claire Banks, Lyn Campbell, Işık Güner and Sarah Roberts as well as those by Nepalese artist Neera Joshi Pradhan.
  • Rodella Anne Purves (1945-2008) - Although at one time employed in the Garden's Education department, Rodella's career as a major botanical artist largely took place after she left, although the collection also includes several examples of her later work
  • Janne Richardson - Helleborus x hybridus, Fritillaria meleagris and Scilla siberica (Complex composition for 1st year RBGE Diploma in Botanical Illustration)
  • Pamela Richardson - Original work for the RBGE Diploma in Botanical Illustration, 2010
  • Abigail Rorer (1949 - ) - Two prints of Reginald Farrer based on images in the RBGE Archive. These relief engraved portraits were for two fine press books published by Rorer’s press, The Lone Oak Press, Petersham, Massachusetts, USA.
  • Rosemary Margaret Smith (1933-2004) For her entire career Rosemary was a member of the RBGE staff and worked primarily on the family Zingiberaceae. The collection includes many of her drawings published in the Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and illustrations for a ‘Plant of the Week’ column published in the Scotsman between 1963 and 1979 with text by Alf Evans.
  • Lillian Snelling (1879-1972)- Perhaps the RBGE’s most important collection of botanical drawings, of primulas and rhododendrons, made in the Garden, commissioned between 1916 and 1921 by Isaac Bayley Balfour.
  • E. Margaret Stones (b.1920) - RBGE is fortunate to have a collection of watercolours with a particular focus on Himalayan plants, made by Margaret Stones between 1952 and 1970 at Ascreavie, the Angus house and garden of George and Betty Sherriff. Margaret was a friend of the Sherriffs and the collection was left to the Garden by Betty Sherriff (index to collection, created by Regina Davidson)
  • Susanna Stuart-Smith - Black and white drawings for the Orchids of Bhutan and several original watercolours for the Plants of Dhofar.
  • Sharon Tingey - Complex composition for the RBGE Diploma in Botanical Illustration, 2009
  • Maureen Chisam Warwick - a former member of RBGE staff who made numerous b/w drawings for colleagues, including illustrations for the Trees of Central Kalimantan.
  • Jane Wisely - a member of the Botanical Society of Scotland, this collection of watercolour paintings was donated to the Library by the Society in 1994 (index to collection, created by Regina Davidson)

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Historical Collections

  • John George Champion (1815-1854)- A bound volume including several thousand drawings made in Ceylon and China by John George Champion (1815-1854)
  • Alexander Dickson (1836-1887)- Delicate drawings of plant morphology made by Dickson during his period as Regius Keeper (1880-1887), probably as visual notes for his famous blackboard drawings
  • Reginald Farrer (1880-1920)- Watercolours made in the field in western China and Burma
  • John Nugent Fitch (1853-1922)- Illustrations of Soqotran plants made for Isaac Bayley Balfour (the collection also includes drawings by Matilda Smith and Harriet Thistleton-Dyer)
  • Robert Kaye Greville (1794-1866) - Scottish landscape drawings in graphite (index to collection, created by Regina Davidson), original watercolours for the unpublished Plant Scenery of the World, what would have
    been a pioneering work on world biomes by John Hutton Balfour (see also the John Hutton Balfour collection of teaching diagrams)
  • Elizabeth Haig (b.1871) - Collection of around 450 watercolours of mainly Mediterranean flora (Italy and Cyprus), and a small collection of studies of Scottish macrofungi, done by the third daughter of James Richard Haig of Blairhill and Highfield
  • William Hooker (1779-1832) - Phlox maculata, watercolour, 1821
  • Violet Jacob (1863-1946)- Five bound volumes of watercolours made by the Scottish author and poet whilst a military wife in India (index to collection, created by Regina Davidson)
  • Elizabeth Margaret McNab (1846-1926)- 2 bound volumes of 40 watercolour drawings of British plants, done by the eldest daughter of RBGE Head Gardener/Curator James McNab (1810-1878). A few of James’ own botanical drawings are in the McNab Archive at RBGE
  • Mungo Park (1771-1806) - A bound volume of 53 drawings from Park’s first expedition to West Africa in 1795
  • Samuel Edward Peal - A facsimile copy of the exquisite drawings of the grasses of Assam made by the tea planter and artist Peal by James Murray Foster (1836-1879). It is fortunate that Foster made the copy, as the originals were destroyed in a fire.
  • Charlotte Cowan Pearson (1837-1917)- Album of botanical paintings of British plants, made in a variety of Scottish and Yorkshire localities by an outstandingly talented amateur artist

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The John Hope Collection

John Hope (1725-1786) was Regius Keeper of the RBGE 1761-1786, during which period he moved the Garden from Trinity Hospital to a new, larger site on Leith Walk.

The collection includes original drawings and plans of the Garden at Leith Walk including two drawings by Jacob More, original botanical drawings by James Robertson, John Lindsay and William Delacour (1700-1767), and prints by Andrew Bell and Thomas Donaldson and a collection of teaching diagrams.

The Indian Collections

The Roxburgh Collection

William Roxburgh (1751-1815), known as the ‘Father of Indian Botany’, was one of John Hope’s most significant pupils. In India he commissioned about 2500 drawings of Indian plants from a team of Indian artists. These are known as the ‘Roxburgh Icones’. At RBGE is a set of about 500 extremely fine, partially coloured, ink copies based on the original Roxburgh Icones, made in the Calcutta Botanic Garden 1815-20 for Dr James Hare. There is also a set of about 100 facsimile copies of the Icones made by Roxburgh’s own artists.

The Cleghorn Collection

Together with the Hope and Snelling collections, by far the most important element of the Illustrations Collection at RBGE is the group of several thousand botanical drawings commissioned in India, from Indian artists, by Hugh Cleghorn (1820-1895). The drawings include a collection made in Mysore in the 1840s, a group made in and around Madras in the 1850s, many of which are by Wight’s artist Govindoo, and a large collection of drawings copied from book illustrations.

The Wight Collection

The East India Company surgeon Robert Wight (1796-1872) was the most important plant taxonomist working in South India in the mid-19th century. As part of this work he commissioned two Indian artists, Rungiah and Govindoo, to make several thousand botanical drawings. About 700 of these are included in the Illustrations Collection, which probably came to RBGE with the Cleghorn Collection.

The Dapuri Collection

170 drawings of plants made in the Bombay Presidency garden at Dapuri near Poona. These were commissioned in the late 1840s from an anonymous Portuguese-Indian artist by the garden’s superintendent Alexander Gibson (1800-1867)

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Teaching diagrams

The Illustrations Collection also includes teaching diagrams that were used in lectures by Garden staff including the former Regius Keepers John Hope and John Hutton Balfour, including both original artworks and published diagrams.

  • Teaching drawings including experiments carried out by John Hope, including works by Andrew Fyfe (1754-1824), Thomas Bell, John Lindsay and Agnes Williamson
  • A collection of 415 teaching drawings, commissioned by John Hutton Balfour, including original works by R.K. Greville and others (index to collection, created by Regina Davidson)

The collection of published teaching diagrams includes:

  • Arnold Dodel Port, Atlas der Botanik, 1878-93 (index to collection)
  • L. Kny, Botanische Wandtafeln (index to collection)
  • F.G. Kohl, Botanische Wandtafeln, 1898
  • A. Peter, Botanische Wandtafeln

Nature prints

Nature printing comprises a variety of techniques to produce a direct image of a specimen on paper. The Library collections include a number of works using this technique:

  • Henry Craven Baildon -  the Edinburgh-printed Nature printed ferns (186*).
  • Frederick Manson Bailey & Karl Theodor Staiger, 1879, An illustrated monograph of the grasses of Queensland
  • Paulo Boccone - a small collection of Sicilian plants made in the late 17th century
  • Henry Bradbury - the rare 1854 A few leaves represented by nature printing, and his better known books on ferns and seaweeds
  • Indian collections - numerous original works made in the Madras Presidency by Hugh Cleghorn in the 1850s. Also copies of the rare published works of Henry Smith (Nature Printing from Unprepared Plants, Madras, 1857) and Johann Jakob Hunziker (Nature’s Selfprinting, Mangalore, 1862)
  • Johann Hieronymus Kniphof’s Botanica in Originali seu Herbarium vivum - published in the 1760s in twelve parts, each with 100 plants
  • Catherine Mary Stirling [née Wellings] (1819-1879) - Bound volume of 25 sheets of entitled Pencil Sketches of Plant Leaves. This work was created in 1861, by the wife of John Stirling, 7th of Kippendavie (Kippenross), (1811-1882); who wrote up her method of nature printing in a communication read by Thomas Croxen Archer to a meeting of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, See Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 7: 529-530 (1863).    (finding list)

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Photographic collections

The taxonomic sequence within the slide collection includes more than 20,000 images of named botanical specimens from the RBGE Living Collection and expeditions. The collection also includes historical and contemporary images of the gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan.

  • Anna Atkins (1799-1871) - British algae: cyanotype impressions.
  • Robert Moyes Adam (1885-1967) - Numerous plant photographs taken both in the studio and in the Garden by Adam, the Garden’s first official photographer
  • George Paxton (1850-1904) - Glass-plate negatives of the photographs taken for Remarkable trees in Ayrshire, 1894
  • Sir George Watt - Glass-plate negatives taken in India, including photographs of textiles and exhibits from the Calcutta Exhibition in which he was heavily involved
  • Frederick Anthony Hamilton Wills, 2nd Baron Dulverton (1915-1992) - The Glenfeshie Book of Wild Flowers, album containing colour photographs of alpine zone plants taken by the 2nd Lord Dulverton on his Scottish estate in the 1970s

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Item from the Lilian Snelling Collection

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)