The Mineralogical Record
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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: 89 to 93

The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Bornite from Cornwall, England Bornite from Cornwall, England
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1813) depicting natural-size a 3.4-inch specimen in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 503, Volume 5, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Chalcocite from Wheal Abraham, Cornwall, England Chalcocite from Wheal Abraham, Cornwall, England
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1816) depicting natural-size a 4.6-inch portion of a specimen in the collection of John Mawe. Published as Plate 518, Volume 5, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Fluorite from the Bere-Alston Mine, Devonshire, England Fluorite from the Bere-Alston Mine, Devonshire, England
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1816) depicting natural-size a 4.2-inch specimen in the collection of William Lowndes. Published as Plate 529, Volume 5, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Acanthite with Wire Silver from Huel Dutchy, Cornwall, England Acanthite with Wire Silver from Huel Dutchy, Cornwall, England
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1817) depicting natural-size a 1.4-inch specimen in the collection of Mr. Calley. Published as Plate 545, Volume 5, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Apatite from Chudleigh, England Apatite from Chudleigh, England
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1817) depicting natural-size a 3.4-inch specimen in the collection of Henry Brooke. Published as Plate 449, Volume 5, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
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