It takes a gifted artist to become a great teacher and those who dare to teach never cease to learn.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wild Flowers - a sketchbook by Charles and John Raven

Cirsium heterophyllus by Charles Raven. Drawn in Vihti, Finland July 21, 1934. 
Wild Flowers - a sketchbook by Charles and John Raven. Edited by H.J. Noltie.- Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburg. -ISBN 978 1 906129 85 9 

This attractively bound publication reproduces for the first time, 137 color drawings from a remarkable collection of 3860 watercolors and represents 2109 species in the British flora. The drawings were made between 1930 and 1955 and are largely the work of a remarkable father-and-son team: Charles Raven (1885 – 1964) a theologian, naturalist, historian of science and Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, and his son John Raven (1914 – 1980) who  specialized in Greek philosophy and an outstanding botanist. Their plan was to paint and document the entire British flora, which they completed over a period of 25 years. 

In 1942 the Ravens wrote ten chapters (Charles wrote eight and John two of them) which were intended to accompany a selection of their drawings and explain how the collection was made. It started as a family holiday project which became something of an obsession, with Charles painting, and John traveling round the country collecting specimens. These writings are included in the current book. As a curiosity nine of the chapters describe the flora and travels on the British Islands and one of them, chapter eight is a description of “An Idyll of Suomi – Finland 1934”.

Charles participated in a conference in Finland and was invited to stay afterwards a couple of days at a lake in Vihti, “small for Finland, very large to an Englishman” (p.147) with the bishop because his sons were also interested in plants. An interesting detail is that the 13-yr old Samuel didn’t yet know English, and Charles didn’t know Finnish or Swedish, so the conversation was carried out by using Latin, which Samuel had learned primarily from the scientific names of his herbarium specimens (!) -  This chapter is the only one to have been previously published. It was included in the book because the plants in Finland appeared to be very similar to those in Scotland (”The structure of the land is exactly like that strange corner of Scotland…”, p. 144)
In addition to the 137 color drawings/paintings the book includes a selection of the 53 surviving letters from John to Charles Raven plus a substantial introduction on the Raven family and the drawings written by Henry Noltie.

This is a very interesting work of 216 pages recording and describing not only the British plants but also the culture and environment, and is warmly recommended.
At the moment this book is available only at the publisher, Amazon does not give any date for its expected availability in the US.  


Laurence said...

I just ordered it and it's going to be shipped to France where I will be for 2 weeks ! Thanks for sharing this info.

MHjK said...

-My husband agrees that it is an excellent book -
Laurence - have a nice visit in your home land

Peter Pascal said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is
also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,

The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.