Descubes Botanical Art

ArtbaseDescubes botanical watercolor nineteenth century

Artbase contains records for the 2,500 original watercolor botanical drawings by the artist Alexandre Descubes. Each plant is searchable by the family, genus and species names recorded on the drawing by the artist as well as by current botanical nomenclature for each plant where it could be determined. The common name as recorded by the artist can also be searched. Search Artbase.

About the Collection

The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden owns 2500 original watercolor botanical drawings by the artist Alexandre Descubes, donated by Lora M. Robins. Each piece is approximately 17.5” x 10.5”, drawn in pencil and painted in watercolor. Most are signed “A. Descubes” in ink. A number of them also have inked impressions of leaves to display the exact veining of the leaf and its size. Thirty-six are dated; with dates ranging from 1875 to 1919. Nine are impressed on the reverse with a stamp that reads “Imperial Institute Library.” Eight pieces have fragments of architectural drawings. There is extensive botanical information on each sheet including:

  • the Family, Genus and Species name
  • a full botanical description of the plant
  • a list of countries and/or habitats in which the plant is found
  • a list of the plant names in the vernaculars of each of these areas or countries
  • a list of literature references to the plant

The plants depicted are mostly natives of, or cultivated on the Indian subcontinent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the geopolitical names listed most frequently as habitats are: India, Pakistan, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, the Himalayas, and the Malayan Peninsula.

About the Artist

Alexandre Descubes was born in Mauritius in July 1850 (Mauritius Blue Books 1875-1882) or July 17, 1854 (Office of the Surveyor General of India, Dehra Dun). He was appointed as a Draughtsman in the Public Works Department of Mauritius on May 12, 1874. In this capacity he served as a land surveyor and cartographer, authoring several maps including one of Mauritius completed in 1880. In the late 1880's he was employed with the Forest Survey of India. He was identified as Superintendent, Forest Map Records under the Supervision of P. J. Gordon, Superintendent of Forest Surveys on a map of Indian forests published in June 1904. No record of his death has yet been found, but the last dated artwork is 1919. View the complete entry in the Dictionary of Mauritian Biography.  Read the article "Demystifying Descubes at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden," by Maggie Southwick published in The Botanical Artist, June 2010.

Viewing the Collection

Only 40 of the records in the database have digital images. Fifty originals are on view in the Robins Visitor Center. The remaining collection is viewable by appointment with the garden librarian at 804-262-9887 x332, or

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