Reichenbachia: 19th Century Botanical Illustrations
From the time I was very young, I remember how my mother refreshed the living room with a bouquet display — a quirky arrangement of flowers from the garden, or potted plants. Among one of my favorite displays was when my mother came home with more than a few pots of orchids she found on sale, each unique with their otherworldly characteristics. They were all over the house in celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which occurs on the first day of spring. The orchid flowers seemed like little, colorful faeries frozen in time each time I greeted them. Now whenever I see orchids I am filled with delight — they are so extraordinary and their image evokes a comforting memory.
The Conservatory is my favorite place to walk around at the Garden — orchids are everywhere offering bursts of color and exotic structure. So when it came time to consider a spring exhibit, the rare, imperial edition Reichenbachia illustrations in the Lora Robins Library’s special collection seemed like a perfect choice. A long-term loan by orchid enthusiast Dr. Arthur Burke, the work is the perfect fit for the early weeks of spring and and the Garden’s early bloom time. The Reichenbachia are a limited edition of nearly 200 life-sized chromolithographs of different species of orchids, printed between 1888 and 1894. In very simple terms, a full-color chromolithograph is produced by an additive process, where each plate is a different, single color. Each illustration was produced with nearly 20 color plates, an incredible feat for even the most skilled lithographers.
What is clear in both the Conservatory and the illustrations is the uniqueness of each orchid species and how varied their characteristics are. With the exhibit of nine illustrations, I chose the works that surprised me the most in their structure, color, and beauty. Each illustration can stand alone and amaze, but the real strength of the series is the astonishing variation in the species when they are viewed together.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s special collections of botanical illustrations are not limited to the Reichenbachia. Other impressive collections at the Garden include nearly 2,500 illustrations by Alexandre Descubes, original watercolor paintings that are currently on display in the Lora Robins Library and the Garden Cafe’, along with a collection by French botanist Gaston Bonnier.
The Reichenbachia exhibit is on display through April 13 in Ginter Gallery II of the Kelly Education Center. The Exhibit is included with garden admission.