Referring to the blooms evoked in The Flower Book, Pre-Raphaelite artist/designer Edward Burne-Jones (b.1833-d.1898) wrote, “It is not enough to illustrate them, I want…to wring their secret from them.” Rather than presenting the flowers themselves, the prints found in this stunning book are evocative, dream-like images inspired by floral names.
To escape the busyness of life in London, Burne-Jones repaired to his cottage on the southern English coast, where he painted watercolors based on some of the hundreds of unusually named floral varieties he observed.
After the artist’s death in 1898, his widow Georgiana Burne-Jones arranged for the paintings to be reproduced in a book, published in conjunction with the Fine Art Society of London. Frenchman Henri Piazza produced the prints based on Burne-Jones’s watercolors. Three hundred copies of the book were printed in 1905.
It has been suggested that the remarkable vividness and depth of the prints in The Flower Book are the result of a French printing process called pochoir, in which layers of hand-colored stenciling are applied to a type of black-and-white photographic print (a “collotype”). This might explain the almost three-dimensional quality many of the prints display.
Others have speculated differently, without offering a definitive explanation of the printer’s process. Thus, the remarkable images retain an aura of mystery that adds to their appeal.
The Flower Book: Reproductions of Thirty-eight Watercolors by Edward Burne-Jones. Reproduced for the Fine Art Society by Henri Piazza. London: 1905. Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, on loan to the University of Delaware Library.