Sunday, February 19, 2017

Georg Ehret by Kyle Harvey

Georg Dionysius Ehret:

By Kyle Harvey 

Georg Dionysius Ehret was a botanist and entomologist. Born in early 18th century Germany, Ehret took an apprenticeship with a gardener, his uncle, at a young age. He combined his love for drawing and painting, as learned from his father, and combined this with his knowledge from his apprenticeship. From there he became one of the most prominent and influential botanical artists of his time. His earliest works date back to the 1730’s and he continued his art through his death in 1770. Gerta Calmann author of Ehret: Flower Painter Extraordinary noted that “the greatest difficulty for this author, who is not a botanist, has been to explain the role which Ehret has played in the history of botany: his drawings give a true likeness if many exotic, mainly American” (1977, 9). Ehret’s precise attention detail allowed him to create life-like drawings, paintings, and prints that would eventually played a key role in the identification of plants. Carl Linneaus often cited Ehret’s published illustrations. Calmann adds that “Ehret was the first to provide the botanical world with Linneaus’s ‘sexual system’ of botanical classification in a graphic form” (1977, 9). His work was extensive and detailed; There are known to be some 3,000 of his drawings and paintings in collections.
Ultimately, I chose Georg Dionysius Ehret because I like Germans and thought his art to be particularly intriguing through his use of detail and color. His work not only documented foreign species but also helped scientific discovery regarding these new plants. Integrating art with science is interesting on many levels.

Bull Bay (Magnolia grandiflora L.) 53cm x 36.5cm.
Body color on vellum, signed. 1743 
Mourning Iris (Iris susiana L.) 47cm x 33.5cm.
Body Color on vellum, signed. 1765

Parrot Tulip 'Le Perroquet rouge' (Tulipa gesneriana L.).
53cm x 37.1cm. Body color on vellum, signed. 1744
Each of these works highlights Ehret’s mastery attention to detail which makes each of the flowers seem nearly real. The print on the left is entitled “Bull Bay (Magnolia grandiflora L.)” and is being displayed in the print room of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. This piece is particularly admirable to me because of Ehret’s ability to manipulate tones to produce such a dynamic contrast that adds to the depth and overall composition of the piece. The piece in the center is title “Mourning Iris (Iris Susiana L.).” This one in particular highlights is immense precision and accuracy in his art. Although it may be hard to see on a computer screen, within the drawing all the smallest details, from the pattern on the petals to the tiny hairs coming off them, come together to make a beautiful flower. His use of green on within the white and red petals as a sort of contrast was an interesting choice that really adds to the work. Lastly, the work on the right is called “Parrot Tulip ‘Le Perroquet rogue’ (Tulipa gesneriana L.)” this piece uses vibrant colors and precise detail to elevate the painting. Also on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum, this painting is just 53cm x 37.1cm. His control over the brush just to be able to get such small details is notable in itself. The small lines that contour the petals and leaves are some of the most impressive details.

Calmann, Gerta. 1977. Ehret, flower painter extraordinary. Boston: New York Graphic Society.
Ehret, Georg Dionysius, and Victoria and Albert Museum. 1987. Ehret's flowering plants. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

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