Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F

Orchid

Drawing
about or after 1837 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Samuel Holden was a prolific painter of exotic plants, especially orchids, in the 1830s and 1840s. Holden studied most of them in the private collections of plant enthusiasts and collectors in Great Britain, sometimes annotating his drawings with the location of his specimen. Victorian plant collectors were fanatical about orchids, with some enthusiasts amassing more than 18,000 examples. The Coryanthes species here is annotated 'Chatsworth House', home to William Cavendish (1790 - 1858), Duke of Devonshire. Cavendish developed an interest in horticulture because Chatsworth bordered on the grounds of the Horticultural Society. He began to collect exotic species and Chatsworth became the world's largest collection of orchids at the time.

Holden was employed to create botanical illustrations by the Duke of Devonshire’s head gardener, Joseph Paxton. Holden created a plate from the bucket orchid watercolour, which appears in lithographic form in volume five of Paxton’s publication Paxton’s Magazine of Botany (1838). Paxton writes that the Coryanthes macrantha’s first flowered in Chatsworth in 1837, the same year in which Holden completed his study. This haste to picture the plants reveals a desire to be the first to claim ownership of a particular species. The botanical magazines, where prints of the orchids appeared, acted as a stage upon which wealthy plant-owners could exhibit their exotic plants and generate public interest in them, asserting their position in the world of fashionable botany.






object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional Titles
  • Coryanthes machrantha (assigned by artist)
  • Bucket Orchid (popular title)
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour
Brief Description
Botanical study by Samuel Holden of Bucket Orchid, Coryanthes macrantha (Hook); 1837, watercolour, made at Chatsworth House, from Duke of Devonshire's collection; British.
Physical Description
Botanical study of an orchid, with pseudobulbs, long dark green leaves and two purple flower with yellow petals with purple spots.
Dimensions
  • Height: 36.8cm
  • Width: 28.2cm
Marks and Inscriptions
  • Chatsworth 1837
  • Coryanthes machrantha [sic] (Lower right)
  • S. Holden (Signature written within the roots)
Credit line
Presented to the V&A by Samuel Holden on March 22nd 1878
Object history
Samuel Holden was a prolific painter of orchids, painting many new species introduced from Asia, and Central and South America. He created drawings and prints for many prominent horticulturalists. These included Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth; exotic nursery owners the Loddiges family; and the orchid collector and scholar James Bateman, author of The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, for which Holden produced drawings (1). Holden studied plants in the private collections of many other collectors in Great Britain, often signing his works alongside details of the location and owner of the plants.



Wealthy Victorian plant collectors influenced a craze for orchids. The Coryanthes species here is annotated 'Chatsworth House', home to William Cavendish (1790 - 1858), 6th Duke of Devonshire. Cavendish’s gardens at Chatsworth held the world's largest collection of orchids at the time.



In 1826, Cavendish placed his garden under the care of Joseph Paxton, who would later design the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. In 1836 the ‘Great Stove’ conservatory, designed by Paxton, began to be constructed at Chatsworth. The stove was designed to allow control of internal temperature and moisture. These technological developments in the gardens of wealthy patrons like Cavendish allowed orchids to be grown in Britain successfully, a difficult task as reflected by Sir Joseph Hooker’s comments that England had become ‘the grave of tropical orchids’(2).



This illustration is a preliminary study for an engraving, with the artist first observing the plant from life. Holden’s use of watercolours allowed him the ease and immediacy to fully capture the momentary blooming of the flower. A lithographic version of this watercolour can be found in the publication Paxton’s Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants. The engravers and lithographers for this magazine are listed as C.J. Fleming, S. Holden, T.S.O. Hewitt and F.W. Smith. Holden made 438 plates for Paxton’s Magazine between 1836-1849(3). The lithograph of the bucket orchid can be found in volume five of the publication, published in 1838(4). Whilst the lithograph shows a more closely cropped representation of the bucket orchid, focusing specifically on the right-hand flower and reducing detail in the pseudobulbs and leaves, this image seems undoubtedly to have been made from Holden’s earlier watercolour. As Holden made lithographs for Paxton’s Magazine of Botany, we can see that Holden, rather than being a hobbyist illustrator, was employed, presumably by Paxton himself, to draw and make prints of the plants at Chatsworth.



Holden’s drawings shows the spectacular flowers that were now able to be cultivated in Britain, and their commission reveals Paxton and Cavendish’s wish to show their dominance in the field of botany. Paxton writes that the coryanthes macrantha first flowered in Chatsworth in 1837, the same year in which Holden completed his study. This haste to picture the plants reveals a desire to be the first to claim ownership of a particular species. The botanical magazines, where prints of the orchids appeared, acted as a stage upon which wealthy plant-owners could exhibit their exotic plants and generate public interest in them, asserting their position in the world of fashionable botany.



Apart from what we know about his patrons, we know little else about Holden. Archival documents from the Royal Academy in London show that Holden showed four flower paintings in the Academy’s annual exhibition between the years 1845 and 1847(5). This could mean that Holden was trained as an artist, and that his botanical illustrations were commissioned with aesthetic and decorative value in mind. However, Holden uses an established scientific style. The composition highlights the most characteristic angles of the plant - the orchid is placed upon a blank ground and the stem is separated from the leaves and pseudobulbs in a diagrammatic style. We cannot separate fully the artist’s botanical, taxonomical and aesthetic appreciations of the plant.



The first description of the coryanthes macrantha can be found in Sir William Jackson Hooker’s 1832 Botanical Miscellany, alongside Hooker’s own engraving (6). Hooker gave the orchid its scientific name, which in the Botanical Miscellany is called Gongora Macrantha (‘gongora’ being loosely synonymous with ‘coryanthes’). Hooker details the journey of the species: it was ‘discovered’ in Caracas, Venezuela and cultivated by David Lockhart in the botanical gardens in Trinidad, who then sent specimens, preserved in spirits, to Hooker in Britain. The coryanthes macrantha first flowered in nursery of Joseph Knight in Chelsea in 1836, one year before Paxton and Cavendish’s specimen bloomed at Chatsworth.



Holden donated this drawing, along with 126 other flower studies, to the museum in 1878(7).





(1) Helen Butler, ‘Science and Spectacle in British Botanical Illustration’, V&A/RCA History of Design First Term Essay, (Unpublished paper, V&A/RCA MA History of Design, 2016).

(2) Sue Shephard, Seeds of Fortune: A Great Gardening Dynasty (London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2003).

(3) Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists: (including Plant Collectors, Flower Painters, and Garden Designers), ed. by Ray Desmond (London: Taylor & Francis, 1994), p. 36.

(4) Joseph Paxton, Paxton’s Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants, Volume 5 (London: W.S. Orr & Co. 1838).

(5) Algernon Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, Volume Four (London: H. Graves and Co., ltd: 1905) p. 124.

(6) William Jackson Hooker, Botanical Miscellany, Volume 2 (London: John Murray, 1831).

(7) Victoria & Albert Museum Archive, Handwritten entry of acquisition of 127 works by S. Holden, 1878, Library Receiving Room Diary April 1877 to March 1879 (archive ref. MA/34/15).







Subject depicted
Summary
Samuel Holden was a prolific painter of exotic plants, especially orchids, in the 1830s and 1840s. Holden studied most of them in the private collections of plant enthusiasts and collectors in Great Britain, sometimes annotating his drawings with the location of his specimen. Victorian plant collectors were fanatical about orchids, with some enthusiasts amassing more than 18,000 examples. The Coryanthes species here is annotated 'Chatsworth House', home to William Cavendish (1790 - 1858), Duke of Devonshire. Cavendish developed an interest in horticulture because Chatsworth bordered on the grounds of the Horticultural Society. He began to collect exotic species and Chatsworth became the world's largest collection of orchids at the time.



Holden was employed to create botanical illustrations by the Duke of Devonshire’s head gardener, Joseph Paxton. Holden created a plate from the bucket orchid watercolour, which appears in lithographic form in volume five of Paxton’s publication Paxton’s Magazine of Botany (1838). Paxton writes that the Coryanthes macrantha’s first flowered in Chatsworth in 1837, the same year in which Holden completed his study. This haste to picture the plants reveals a desire to be the first to claim ownership of a particular species. The botanical magazines, where prints of the orchids appeared, acted as a stage upon which wealthy plant-owners could exhibit their exotic plants and generate public interest in them, asserting their position in the world of fashionable botany.









Bibliographic Reference
Helen Butler, ‘Science and Spectacle in British Botanical Illustration’, V&A/RCA History of Design First Term Essay, (Unpublished paper, V&A/RCA MA History of Design, 2016) Ray Desmond, ed., Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists: (including Plant Collectors, Flower Painters, and Garden Designers) (London: Taylor & Francis, 1994), p. 36 Paxton, Joseph, Paxton’s Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants, Volume 5 (London: W.S. Orr & Co. 1838) William Jackson Hooker, Botanical Miscellany, Volume 2 (London: John Murray, 1831)
Collection
Accession Number
8379:3

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record createdJune 30, 2009
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