Semi-Double Tree Peony

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Artist Statement


This illustration of the semi-double tree peony appeared in volume 17 of Edwards’s Botanical Register, published in 1831. In the text accompanying this plate, John Lindley wrote that the Register was “indebted to the Earl of Mountnorris”, who raised the tree peony from seed and supplied Lindley and the illustrator Sarah Ann Drake with specimens from which Drake “figur[ed] this beautiful variety of the Tree Pæony”. This was indeed an impressive feat, as tree peonies take much longer to grow than garden peonies. They’re well worth the wait, with larger, hardier flowers that last longer once cut. The “semi-double” categorization refers to the number of petal rows: a semi-double peony has more than one row of petals coming out of the crown of the flower, but the anthers are still visible when the flower is in bloom. This striking coloration—white petals with a deep purple center—is typical of the Cora Louise variety of semi-double peony.

Edwards’s Botanical Register was initially dubbed The Botanical Register when it was begun in 1815 with Sydenham Edwards at the helm. After Edwards died in 1819, the illustrated horticultural magazine passed into the hands of its publisher, James Ridgway. It exchanged hands again in 1829 to John Lindley, who renamed the magazine Edwards’s Botanical Register. Lindley published another nineteen volumes of his writing and Sarah Ann Drake’s illustrations before retiring the magazine in 1847.



Sarah Ann Drake | See All Editions


What little we know of Sarah Ann Drake is due to her working relationship with English botanist John Lindley. Lindley wrote a number of important botanical works in the nineteenth century, and often painted his own illustrations. However, as other responsibilities began to claim more of his time, Lindley went looking for a replacement illustrator. He found one in his daughter’s childhood friend, Sarah Ann Drake.

Drake was born on July 24, 1803, in Skeyton, a small village outside of Norfolk, England. As a young woman, she studied in Paris, where she practiced activities considered ladylike, including painting and drawing. She moved back to England in 1830 and lived with the Lindley family, where she held several roles, including that of governess. Ultimately, she became trained as a botanical artist. When she began working with Lindley, she based her drawings on living plants and sketches that were sent to Lindley from places like Brazil, Australia, and China. Her first illustrations appeared in Plantae Asiaticae Rariores. She was later published in Edwards’s Botanical Register, Ladies Botany, and Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala.

Drake gained wide recognition for the extraordinary quality of her work. In addition to its exceptional quality, there was an exceptional quantity: Drake created well over 1500 illustrations in her lifetime. She was so crucial to Lindley’s botanic study that he named the genus Drakea after her. Sarah Ann Drake returned home to Norfolk in 1847 after the Edwards's Botanical Register ceased publication. She died ten years later in 1857.

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