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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Orchids: Glories of Nature, Artifice, and Ornament

The exhibition Orchids: A View from the East has just opened at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and will be on display until April 24, 2011 (one of the rooms in the exhibition, which focuses on Asian influences in cultivating and decorating with orchids, is shown here). This exhibition represents the kind of collaborative effort that the Smithsonian excels at, combining the work and ideas of various units within the Institution (Smithsonian Gardens, Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central and Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations, the National Museum of Natural History, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and the National Postal Museum), as well as two external partners: the United States Botanic Garden and the U.S. National Arboretum. If you're in the Washington, D.C. area, you might like to attend Orchid Exhibit Family Day, to be held from 11am to 3pm on Saturday, February 26, 2011. The Smithsonian Gardens, the National Museum of Natural History, and the United States Botanic Garden will be hosting a fun-filled day of free activities in conjunction with this exhibition.

This exhibition reminds me of one of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' most beautiful set of books, Lindenia: Iconographie des Orchidées, published at Ghent, Belgium, between 1885 and 1906. The publication's name refers to Jean Jules Linden, a Belgian botanist, horticulturalist, scientific explorer, and entrepreneur who revolutionized the cultivation of orchids in temperature-controlled greenhouses. Linden's lavishly illustrated books highlight an amazing variety of orchids (for example, Lindenia has 813 chromolithographed plates). His business acumen in marketing orchids to wealthy collectors stoked public enthusiasm for these exotic and unusual plants. Artists and interior decorators were inspired by Linden to incorporate orchids in their designs.

Those of you familiar with the various branches of the Smithsonian Libraries may be wondering why this book of plant illustrations belongs to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library, rather than to the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History. Lindenia was donated to the Cooper-Hewitt from the bequest of Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872-1930), an American artist renowned for creating beautiful murals featuring fantastic animals and plants. Some of Chanler's murals can still be seen at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park and Coe Hall in Oyster Bay, New York. To Chanler, Lindenia served as an inspiration for his art and design work, and he wanted the volumes to become part of the Cooper-Hewitt's renowned collection of rare books on the decorative arts.

Additional books, paintings, and other items at the Smithsonian relating to Robert W. Chanler (portrait at left, from the Juley Collection) can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries; the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection of the Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Archives of American Art; and the National Portrait Gallery. Just browse through this selection of Chanler material in the SI Collections Search Center.

Lindenia: Iconographie des Orchidées. Directeur, J. Linden; rédacteurs en chef, Lucien Linden & Emile Rodigas. Call number f QK495 .O64L56 1885 CHMRB, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library.

Shown above is plate XLIX from Lindenia: Epindendrum atropurpureum var. Randi L. Lind. & Rod.

A selection of additional images from Lindenia can be seen on the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Galaxy of Images website.

Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

1 comment:

  1. Very nice blog. Thank you for bringing attention to the orchid exhibit.
    Barbara Faust