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.

Click on thumbnail picture to see larger image.
Number of artworks found: 93 | Artworks being viewed: 33 to 40

The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Calcite with  Fluorite from Durham (?), England Calcite with Fluorite from Durham (?), England
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1803) depicting actual-size a 2.5-inch specimen presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 13, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Wire Silver from the Herland Mine, Gwinear, Cornwall Wire Silver from the Herland Mine, Gwinear, Cornwall
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1803) depicting actual-size a 2.2-inch specimen in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 16, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Cassiterite from Cornwall Cassiterite from Cornwall
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1803) depicting actual-size a 3-inch specimen presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 18, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Galena from Derbyshire, England Galena from Derbyshire, England
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1803) depicting actual-size a 3.3-inch specimen presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 24, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Liroconite from the Huel Gorland Mine, Cornwall Liroconite from the Huel Gorland Mine, Cornwall
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1803) depicting actual-size 2-inch and a 1.6-inch specimens presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 31, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Calcite from Derbyshire Calcite from Derbyshire
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1803) depicting actual-size a 4-inch specimen presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 33, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Clinoclase from Wheal Gorland (?), Gwennap, Cornwall Clinoclase from Wheal Gorland (?), Gwennap, Cornwall
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1803) depicting actual-size a 2.7-inch specimen presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 37, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Garnet from Huntly, Scotland Garnet from Huntly, Scotland
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1803) depicting actual-size a 2.3-inch specimen presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 43, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
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