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‘Ripeness is all’ – William Hooker and Charles John Robertson

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‘Nectarine’ Plum, William Hooker, 1817,
for the Horticultural Society

Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood founded the Horticultural Society to collect information about plants, and encourage the improvement of horticultural practice. In 1815 the Society decided to hire an artist, and settled on William Hooker, now regarded as one of the finest pomological artists in the world. His masterwork, Pomona Londinensis, is a collection of 49 hand-colored aquatint engravings of fruits.

I like to eat a fruit when it is perfectly ripe. Hooker’s challenge was to capture it in paint at just that moment. I imagine him dashing around Regency London to find the very choicest plums in markets, private gardens, and nurseries. To get the right colour for leaves, he compounded a special pigment, still sold to artists as ‘Hooker’s Green’.

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'Wilmot Superb', Charles John Robertson, 1824,
for the Horticultural Society

In 1820 the Society hired Charles John Robertson to succeed Hooker on his retirement. Nothing is known about Robertson’s life. I am afraid his career was cut short, and had no chance to ripen. All that remains are 28 drawings of fruits, made between 1820 and 1825.

They form part of the RHS Lindley Library in London. Over the years, as Banks and Wedgewood hoped, the number of horticultural drawings has grown. There are now more than 22,000 in the collection.

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