Jacques LE MOYNE DES MORGUES
(Dieppe c.1533 - London 1588)
Clove Pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus)
139 x 100 mm. (5 1/2 x 4 in.) [image]
195 x 145 mm. (7 5/8 x 5 3/4 in.) [sheet]
Le Moyne’s ‘Du Marry’ album is one of the earliest French florilegia known. A compendium of images of flowering plants, studied directly from nature, a florilegium was related to the herbal; an early form of plant book providing exacting descriptions of plants for medicinal purposes. The rise of exploration in the 16th century brought many new plants to Europe, and stimulated a concurrent interest in garden design. There was also much demand, among collectors and scholars of exotic plants, for artists to record their transient beauty. Le Moyne was among the leading 16th century artists who specialized in the production of elaborate painted florilegia, and his splendid work in this field found a particularly receptive audience in Elizabethan England.
As the scholar Paul Hulton has noted of Le Moyne’s watercolours in the British Museum album, in terms equally applicable to the present sheet, ‘The drawings are nearly all of plants then commonly found in French or English gardens…They show an exquisite attention to detail, yet are drawn with a deep understanding and love of the subject which avoids all traces of superficial prettiness. They are plant portraits which delight the eye and at the same time satisfy to a remarkable extent the scientific requirements of the botanist. The combination of these virtues is very rarely found to the same degree at this period.’
The wild ancestor of the garden carnation, the clove pink is a plant with clove-scented flowers, and was used as a medicinal and culinary herb, as an aromatic and for flavouring. Le Moyne seems to have been particularly fond of clove pinks, which appear several times in his oeuvre. The ‘Du Marry’ album, from which the present sheet originates, included two other studies of clove pinks, albeit each very different in composition. A similar study of a clove pinks is also found in the album of watercolours of flowers, fruit and butterflies by Le Moyne in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. A depiction of clove pinks with a small butterfly by Le Moyne was part of a group of six small gouache drawings on vellum, formerly in the manuscript collection of Eric Korner, which were sold at auction in 1997. A sheet of studies of five clove pinks, drawn in watercolour and gouache in a more informal manner, was sold at auction in New York in 2004.
Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 26 January 2005, part of lot 46 (the album sold for $1,136,000)
W. Graham Arader, New York.