Antique Violet Prints by Paul de Longpre
Antique chromolithograph prints of violets by French botanical artist Paul de Longpre

Drawn with meticulous attention to detail and beautifully hand colored, vintage and antique botanical prints provide us with a real connection to the outdoors.

An attractive way for a new collector to begin collecting art, botanical prints are much more affordable than most paintings and other artworks, and are an inspired way to decorate your home.

Antique Botanical Cranesbill Geranium Print
This illustration is selected from Victorian era book Plants, Grasses, Sedges and Ferns of Great Britain by artist Anne Pratt.
Antique floral print by Anne Pratt
Antique books are often a treasure trove for inexpensive artwork. Salvage the illustrations from tattered books by framing the prints.

 

Botanical illustrations originally appeared in herbal medicine books, natural history publications and seed catalogs. Early botanical illustrations were instructive: In the 16th century, herbals (books filled with plants used for medicines) were copied by hand, often by monks, to aid physicians in the healing arts.

Triangular Prickly Toothed Fern Print by Anne Pratt
When choosing which prints to display together, find a common theme, such as color or species, to unite the group.

In the late 16th century, naturalists produced florilegia books, filled with illustrations of flowers of every species. The artists took great care to draw each specimen from nature, adding birds, insects and other small animals to the illustrations. Flowers and plants were so immensely popular in the 17th and 18th century that European nursery businessmen employed artists to draw and paint images for big albums, much like a nursery catalog you
can get today. During the tulip mania in the Netherlands, special books were produced to exhibit the tulip bulbs available for purchase.

The golden age for botanical art was between 1750 and the late 1800s, when well- known botanical artists such as Jane Webb Loudon, Pierre Joseph Redoute and Anne Pratt painted thousands of illustrations of plant and floral life. Avidly bought and cherished, natural science books and prints of flowers and plants were especially beloved as Europe had a love affair with the natural world.

During this romantic era, when plant hunters and botanical explorers brought back exciting, exotic plants and flowers from the European colonies and Asia, botanical drawings were
 used to show the newly discovered species in accurate, beautiful detail. A wealth of botanical books were produced, interest in gardening thrived and the development in color engravings and lithography advanced these botanical prints to a true art form.

What to Collect

  • Invest in quality. Buy the best quality you can afford. Age, condition and subject matter will affect a print’s value. Roses, peonies and tulips are the more popular subjects of antique prints and will command higher prices than wildflowers.

    Antique botanical illustration by British artist Anne Pratt.
    Antique botanical illustration by British artist Anne Pratt.
  •  Most of the botanical prints available today were originally bound in books. They should be blank on the reverse side and measure 5′′ to 8′′ by 9′′ to 10′′. An earlier pressing is preferred, as these will have better quality and richness of the printed image.
  • Focus Your Collection. Many collectors choose one type of flower or plant species for their collection around. You can build your collection with one type or one color, or, if you just love all flowers and plants, a whole garden or meadow full of different species!
  • Buy What You Love. Buy images you want to live with. Buying prints that tug at your heartstrings and that you think will look beautiful in your home will guarantee you build a collection that personally speaks to you. If you fall in love with the plant or flower, or the colors and the style of a botanical print, this is the one you should purchase.

 

How to Preserve and Display your Prints:

  • If you have a large collection, a commercial studio flat file is the preferred way to store your prints. There are also antique cabinets with wide shallow drawers for the same purpose. can do immense damage that will stain your print.
These types of cabinets are ideal for larger collections and keep your prints stored flat so that the edges won’t curl or tear.
  • If you wish to have a print matted and framed, take it to an experienced framer. Contact with acid-bearing mats and paper can do immense damage that will stain your print.
  • Be sure to keep the prints out of direct sunlight, which can cause damage to the ink as well as the paper. A UV filtering piece of glass or acrylic will protect prints if framed.
  • Loose prints can also be stored in an archival Solander box with acid-free tissue. There are lots of companies that produce Solander boxes. Handle the loose prints carefully, preferably while wearing white cotton gloves.