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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: 57 to 64

The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Cuprite from near Redruth, Cornwall Cuprite from near Redruth, Cornwall
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1804) depicting a magnified specimen presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 100, Volume 1, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Smoky Quartz from Aberdeen, Scotland Smoky Quartz from Aberdeen, Scotland
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1804) depicting a 4.3-inch specimen in the collection of G. Liang. Published as Plate 102, Volume 2, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Witherite with Galena from Arkendale, Yorkshire Witherite with Galena from Arkendale, Yorkshire
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1804) depicting a 3.3-inch specimen in the collection of F. Hall. Published as Plate 109, Volume 2, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Celestine from Aust Passage near Bristol, England Celestine from Aust Passage near Bristol, England
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1805) depicting a 4.1-inch specimen in the collection of Mr. Clayfield. Published as Plate 117, Volume 2, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Torbernite from Carharrack (?), Cornwall Torbernite from Carharrack (?), Cornwall
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1805) depicting a 2-inch specimen (and a magnified view of one crystal) presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 125, Volume 2, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Bournonite from Huel Boys, Endellion, Cornwall Bournonite from Huel Boys, Endellion, Cornwall
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1805) depicting a 3.3-inch matrix specimen and a 1.2-inch single crystal crystal in the collection of Richard Phillips. Published as Plate 136, Volume 2, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Calcite from Portland Island, Cornwall Calcite from Portland Island, Cornwall
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1805) depicting a 3.8-inch specimen presumably in the collection of James Sowerby. Published as Plate 143, Volume 2, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
The Mineralogical Record: James Sowerby - Calcite from near Glasgow, Scotland Calcite from near Glasgow, Scotland
Hand-colored copper-plate engraving (1805) depicting a 7.5-inch specimen in the collection of Charles Greville. Published as Plate 147, Volume 2, of Sowerby's British Mineralogy (reproduced here from a rare copy in the Mineralogical Record Library).
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