Title: Early New Zealand Botanical Art

Author: F. Bruce Sampson

Publication details: Reed Methuen, 1985, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: F. Bruce Sampson

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Early New Zealand Botanical Art

John Nugent Fitch (1843-1927)

page 127

John Nugent Fitch (1843-1927)

J. N. Fitch, who prepared the lithographs for the Illustrations, has been described as second only to his uncle, W. H. Fitch, in industry. He lithographed nearly 2,500 drawings for Curtis's Botanical Magazine, in a style difficult to distinguish from that of his uncle, from whom he had received most of his instruction in drawing. He was a talented artist whose work included the illustrations (in colour) for the eleven-volume The Orchid Album by R. Warner and B. S. Williams (1882-97), and illustrations in Horwood's A New British Flora (1919). He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1877. His artistic career was terminated in 1920 by an illness that resulted in the loss of the use of his fingers. In appreciation of his work, he received a Civil List pension a few years before he died. Wilfrid Blunt, in probably the most authoritative book on botanical art, The Art of Botanical Illustration, is critical of Matilda Smith's skills. He commented that she remained to the end a rather fumbling draughtsman, more remembered for her great pains and untiring efforts than for her skill. He added, "she owed much to John Fitch, who made some attractive lithographs from her rather hesitant sketches". The illustrations in Cheeseman's book are clearly skilfully done, but the extent to which their excellence is due to "retouching" by John Fitch when he made the lithographs is an interesting question. Fortunately, it can be answered, for the original pencil drawings Matilda Smith prepared for the Illustrations are at the Auckland Institute and Museum. These drawings, signed by Miss Smith, differ little from the lithographs apart from being mirror images, as is characteristic of lithography. They demonstrate unequivocally that Fitch added few extra touches apart from some finer shading.