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Oxyanthus, early 19th century

Pierre Jean François TURPIN
Oxyanthus (early 19th century)

Pierre Jean François TURPIN
French 1775–1840

early 19th century
watercolour, pencil, pen and ink
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Margaret Stones, Governor, 2004      2004.135

The documentation of botanical specimens goes back to fifteenth-century ‘herbals’, or illustrated books of plants made for collectors, naturalists and apothecaries. The genre of botanical art developed rapidly in the early modern period, when great numbers of regional and exotic plants were collected, pressed and described in word and image. By the eighteenth century, botanical drawings and prints were highly sought after by collectors.

Pierre Jean François Turpin was a French botanical illustrator who was largely self-taught, both in art and botany. He joined the army in the early 1790s and was stationed in Haiti, where he met the botanist Pierre Antoine Poiteau in 1794. The two men collected more than 1200 specimens and collated information on Haitian flora, publishing a book together in 1808. Turpin went on to collaborate with various botanists and produced hundreds of hand-coloured engravings for publications, including Alexander von Humboldt’s 1808 encyclopaedia of plants, and a new edition of Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau’s treatise on fruit trees in 1835. Although Turpin never achieved the reputation and fame of his contemporary Pierre-Joseph Redouté, he is now recognised as one of the finest botanical illustrators of his time.

Turpin’s Oxyanthus depicts a plant in the Rubiaceae family, which grows in subtropical and tropical lowland or montane forests. The drawing was donated by Margaret Stones AM MBE, a distinguished Australian botanical artist, who continues the long tradition of this specialist art form with scientific accuracy, extraordinary skill and sense of design. Turpin’s drawing is currently on display alongside four other botanical works generously donated by Margaret Stones.

Petra Kayser