Curtis's Botanical Magazine

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Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Curtis' - title page serie 3 (vol 71, 1845 ).jpg
The Botanical Magazine, 1845 title page
ISSN 1355-4905
Dianthus barbatus Plate 207 (1793)

The Botanical Magazine; or Flower-Garden Displayed, is an illustrated publication which began in 1787. The longest running botanical magazine, it is widely referred to by the subsequent name Curtis's Botanical Magazine.

Each of the issues contains a description, in formal yet accessible language, and is renowned for featuring the work of two centuries of botanical illustrators. Many plants received their first publication on the pages, and the description given was enhanced by the keenly detailed illustrations.

The first issue, in 1787, was begun by William Curtis, as both an illustrated gardening and botanical journal. Curtis was an apothecary and botanist who held a position at Kew Gardens, who had published the highly praised (but poorly sold) Flora Londinensis a few years before. The publication familiarized its readers with ornamental and exotic plants, which it presented in octavo format. Artists who had previously given over their flower paintings to an affluent audience, now saw their work published in a format accessible by a wider one. The illustrations were initially hand-coloured prints, taken from copper engravings and intended to complement the text. Identification by a general reader was given in exploded details, some of which were given as a section. This was accompanied by a page or two of text describing the plants properties, history, growth characteristics, and some common names for the species.

The first volume's illustrations were mostly by Sydenham Edwards, a dispute with the editors saw his departure to start the rival The Botanical Register. The credit for the first plate (Iris persica) goes to James Sowerby, as did a dozen of Edwards contributions. The first thirty volumes used copper engraving to provide the plates, the hand colouring of these was performed by up to thirty people. An issue might have a circulation of 3000 copies, with 3 plates in each. As costs of production rose, and demand increased, results would be variable within a run. The later use of machine colouring would provide uniformity to the artists work, although the process could not give the same detail for many years. The magazine has been considered to be the premier journal for early botanical illustration.

When Curtis died, having completed 13 volumes (1787–1800), his friend John Sims became editor between 1801 and 1807 (Volumes 15–26) and changed the name. William Hooker was the editor from 1826, bringing to it his experience as a botanist, and as author of the rival magazine, Exotic Botany. W. J. Hooker brought the artist Walter Hood Fitch to the magazine, this artist became the magazines principal artist for forty years. Joseph Dalton Hooker followed his father, becoming the Director of Kew Gardens in 1865, and editor of its magazine.

The next principal artist, Matilda Smith, was brought to the magazine by the younger Hooker. Smith's talent was discovered by Hooker, her cousin, and between 1878 and 1923 Smith drew over 2,300 plates for Curtis's. Her exceptional contribution was to see her become the fist botanic artist of Kew, and she was later made an associate of the Linnean Society—the second woman to have achieved this. The scientific value of the figures and illustration, a source of pride and notability for the magazine, required the careful training of the illustrators. The artist worked closely with the botanist to depict a specimen, the use of exploded details surrounding the depiction gave the volumes practical appeal to botanists, horticulturalists, and gardeners.

The magazine is the greatest serial of botanical illustration yet produced, the consistent quality of the journal's plates and authority make this the most widely cited work of its kind. The hand-coloured plates were a labor intensive process, but this tradition was continued by another principal illustrator, Lilian Snelling (1879–1972), until 1948. A photomechanical process was implemented after this time.

It has been published continuously ever since, with a change of name to The Kew Magazine from 1984 to 1994. In 1995 the name reverted to that of the widely cited, Curtis's Botanical Magazine. It continues to be published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as a publication for those interested in horticulture, ecology or botanical illustration.

The standard form of abbreviation is Curtis's Bot. Mag. or 'Botanical Magazine' in the citation of botanical literature.

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