The 40 botanical works offered by Catherine Southon (24% buyer’s premium) at Farleigh Golf Club ranged from images of sunflowers to snowdrops and came to auction from a descendant of Curtis himself.
He was initially an apothecary but, after finding his calling in horticulture, he established an enviable reputation that helped him become ‘praefectus horti’ of the Society of Apothecaries at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1772.
The following year he established a botanical garden for the cultivation and study of native British plants, first in Bermondsey, then in Lambeth Marsh and later Brompton.
For an annual subscription of a guinea patrons could visit and attend the lectures he gave there, and for an extra guinea a year they could also have a share in the 6000 plants and seeds from the garden.
Curtis started publishing The Botanical Magazine in 1787, featuring hand-coloured plates by artists such as James Sowerby and Sydenham Edwards.
Some of the works here were produced for the magazine itself.
The watercolours at the Surrey auction on November 16 were grouped into 20 lots. With 16 of them finding buyers on the day, together they raised a combined £15,550 hammer total.
A group of four unascribed watercolour and pencil botanical studies of purple and pink flowers titled Saponaria Vaccaria, Saxiafraga Oppositfolia Purple Saxifrage, Daphne Mezereon and Alyssum deltoides led the consignment. Offered together with a guide of £1800-2500, they sold at £3200.
The highest sum for an individual work was a study of a Cynogossum Omphaldoes (Blue Navelwort) by Sydenham Edwards (1768-1819). Despite suffering from foxing throughout, it overshot a £300-500 estimate and sold at £1300.
The image had appeared in volume 1 of The Botanical Magazine.