William Sharp, one of the first chromolithographic printers in the U.S., created these extraordinary illustrations for the large folio Victoria Regia (1854) by John Fisk Allen. Allen, a well-known horticulturalist, cultivated a specimen of the rare, huge (up to 8 feet in diameter), fast-growing (up to an inch an hour!) water lily, native to the Amazon. After months of careful tending, the plant—named in honor of the recently-crowned Queen Victoria—blossomed on the evening of July 21, 1853. Sharp’s depictions of this exotic wonder—in various stages of bloom—were masterpieces and elevated the then-nascent art of chromolithography to spectacular new heights.
image captions: All images are from a copy of Victoria Regia in our collections. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.