Ehret, Georg Dionysius
Ehret, Georg Dionysius
(b. Heidelberg, Germany, 30 January 1708; d. London, England, 9 September 1770)
Ehret was a gifted artist and teacher whose skillfully executed botanical drawings significantly advanced the knowledge of many new and exotic plants. His work and teaching contributed to the successful introduction of the Linnaean system into England.
Ehret was the son of a poor gardener to the margrave of Baden-Durlach. His father’s early death forced him to leave school and begin an apprenticeship as a gardener with his uncle. During the ensuing years he worked as a journeyman gardener in several cities of Germany, executing at the same time a large number of drawings and paintings of the plants under his care. The turning point of his career came about 1732, when Ehret made the acquaintance of the German botanist and physician Christoph Jacob Trew. The financial good fortune resulting from Trew’s patronage enabled Ehret to travel across Europe. He visited the most celebrated gardens in France and Holland, collecting and drawing many rare plants. In 1734 he met the French botanist Bernard de Jussieu in Paris, and shortly thereafter the English physician and botanist Hans Sloane in London. His travels culminated with a visit to the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus in 1737, at Haarlem. There he completed all the illustrations for Linnaeus’ book Hortus Cliffortianus, which was published in the same year. Ehret returned to England in 1740 and began his successful career as an artist and teacher. Among his patrons were the English naturalists Sir Joseph Banks and Griffith Hughes, the physicians Richard Mead and John Fothergill, and the duchess of Portland. He was also temporarily employed at the botanical garden of the University of Oxford in 1750–1751. Ehret was elected fellow of the Royal Society on 19 May 1757 and read several botanical papers before the group. His name was immortalized on the genus Ehretia, an honor proposed by his lifelong friend and mentor Trew and confirmed by Linnaeus.
I. Original Works. “A Memoir of Georg Dionysius Ehret,” translated into English, with notes, by E. S. Barton, is in Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1894–1895), pp. 41–58; Ehret’s original German MS is preserved in the botanical department of the British Museum. With Christoph J. Trew he published Plantae selectae quarum imagines ad exemplaria naturalia Londini in hortis curiosorum nutrita (Nuremberg, 1750–1773). Some of his paintings were collected in Twelve Coloured Reproductions From the Original Paintings on Vellum, with an introduction and descriptive text by Wilfrid Blunt (Guildford, England 1953). Among Ehret’s articles the following should be mentioned: “An Account of a Species of Ophris,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 53 (1763), 81–83; “An Account of a New Peruvian Plant Lately Introduced Into the English Gardens,” ibid. 130–132; and “A Description of the Andrachne With Its Botanical Characters,” ibid. 57 (1767). 114–117,
II. Secondary Literature. For a short and almost contemporary account of Ehret’s life see Richard Pulteney, Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England (London, 1790), II, 284–293. Other biographies appeared in Dictionary of National Biography, VI, 585; Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1883–1884), 42–43; and in Journal of Botany, British and Foreign. 34 (1896), 316–317. Seven letters written to Ehret by Linnaeus between 1736 and 1769 were published in Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1883–1884), 44–51.
Guenter B. Rlsse