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James Sowerby
(1757-1822)

James Sowerby, perhaps the most famous mineral artist of all time, was born in London in 1757, the son of a lapidary. He studied art at the Royal Academy in London, and also studied scientific illustration under the prominent botanist and author William Curtis (1746-1799). Sowerby specialized in miniature portraits, and began by making studies of wildflowers and plants; apparently it was Sowerby who personally engraved and hand-colored many of the plates in Curtis's magnificent book Flora Londinensis. In 1790 he began the first of his own illustrated works, English Botany, which he issued in parts over 23 years and finally completed in 1813; its 36 volumes contain 2,592 individually hand-colored plates! Sowerby and his sons, who assisted him, also produced all of the colored plates in the eleven editions of John Mawe's Familiar Lessons on Mineralogy and Geology (1819-1829), and also for Mawe's Treatise on Diamonds and Precious Stones.

Sowerby's most famous mineralogical works are his British Mineralogy (1804-1817) and Exotic Mineralogy (1811-1820), which contain 550 and 167 hand-colored plates respectively. Each was published in "parts" or periodic issues and sold, like magazines, by subscription. In his studio Sowerby prepared the descriptive text and a detailed painting for each plate, based on specimens in his personal collection or on specimens borrowed from other prominent collectors. He then prepared the engraved copper plate and printed off copies (in black or colored ink) which were then individually hand-colored in watercolors by himself and/or his two sons in a sort of artistic assembly line, using the original painting as their coloring guide. The specimens are all depicted actual size on a blank background. And, because they were engraved and printed, all are depicted in mirror-image. The specimen paintings in John Mawe's Travels in the Interior of Brazil (1812) have also been attributed to Sowerby.

W.E.W.

Reference:
Conklin, L. H. (1995) James Sowerby, his publications and collections. Mineralogical Record, 26, 85-105.

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Number of artworks found: 93 | Artworks being viewed: 1 to 8

The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Native Gold Crystals from Villa do Principe, Brazil Native Gold Crystals from Villa do Principe, Brazil
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving attributed to James Sowerby (1812) depicting three actual-size crystals to five-eighths inch in the collection of John Mawe. Published in Mawe's Travels in the Interior of Brazil (reproduced here from a copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Crocoite from Cocaes, Minas Gerais, Brazil Crocoite from Cocaes, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving attributed to James Sowerby (1812) depicting actual-size a 2.5-inch specimen in the collection of John Mawe. Published in Mawe's Travels in the Interior of Brazil (reproduced here from a copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Crocoite from Berezovsk, Russia Crocoite from Berezovsk, Russia
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1811) depicting actual-size a 6.5-inch specimen in the collection of Charles Greville (and presumably now in the British Museum). Published as Plate 4, Volume 1, of Sowerby's Exotic Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Diamond and Gold in Conglomerate from the Jequitinhonha River, Minas Gerais, Brazil Diamond and Gold in Conglomerate from the Jequitinhonha River, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving attributed to James Sowerby (1812) depicting actual-size a 3.3-inch specimen in the collection of John Mawe. Published in Mawe's Travels in the Interior of Brazil (reproduced here from a copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Mellite from Thuringia (?), Germany Mellite from Thuringia (?), Germany
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1811) depicting actual-size a 1-inch specimen an unspecified collection. Published as Plate 5, Volume 1, of Sowerby's Exotic Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Atacamite from Peru Atacamite from Peru
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1811) depicting actual-size a 3.8-inch specimen in the collection of Charles Greville (and presumably now in the British Museum). Published as Plate 12, Volume 1, of Sowerby's Exotic Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Atacamite from Peru Atacamite from Peru
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1811) depicting actual-size a 3.2-inch specimen in the collection of Charles Greville (and presumably now in the British Museum). Published as Plate 12, Volume 1, of Sowerby's Exotic Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Cinnabar from Almaden, Spain Cinnabar from Almaden, Spain
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1811) depicting actual-size a 3.7-inch specimen in the collection of the Royal Institute, donated by I. G. Children. Published as Plate 18, Volume 1, of Sowerby's Exotic Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
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The Mineralogical Record Museum of Art is is supported entirely by donations from
Kathryn and Bryan Lees, Rob Lavinsky, Wendell Wilson and Susan Robinson.

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