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Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

Persons, Collections and Topics


The Art Department has 487 drawings, watercolors and lithographs from originals by Isaac Sprague (1811–1895).

Isaac Sprague (1811–1895) was born in Hingham, Massachusetts, and apprenticed with his uncle as a carriage painter. He was a self-taught landscape, botanical and ornithological painter. Sprague served as one of the assistants to John James Audubon (1785–1851) on an ornithological expedition up the Missouri River (1843), taking measurements and making sketches. His diary of this expedition is in the Boston Athenaeum.

 In 1844 Sprague met Asa Gray (1810–1888) of Harvard College and over many years illustrated several of his works, including the two published volumes of Genera Florae Americae Boreali-Orientalis (1848–1849, discontinued because of lack of financing), Botanical Text-book, ed. 3 (1850) and Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, ed. 2 (1856). He did the plates for the atlas (1857) to Gray's "Botany. Phanerogamia" in Charles Wilkes' United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 (1845–1876). He illustrated Asa Gray and John Torrey's various volumes of the U.S. War Department's Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad Route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean (1855–1860). He also illustrated George B. Emerson's Report on the Trees and Shrubs Growing Naturally in the Forests of Massachusetts (1846; ed. 2, 1875) and George Goodale's Wild Flowers of America ([1876–]1882). He illustrated Beautiful Wild Flowers of America (1882), Flowers of Field and Forest (1883) and Wayside Flowers and Ferns (1883), all with text by Alpheus Baker Hervey (1839–1931).

Some Sprague images are in the public domain and can be downloaded from the Catalogue of the Botanical Art Collection at the Hunt Institute: Digital Public Domain Images database. To locate these images in the database, search on the artist's last name. When using these images, please include the following credit statement: Courtesy of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., on indefinite loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Other resources

Works by Sprague were included in the Hunt Institute's exhibition American Botanical Prints of Two Centuries and the accompanying catalogue in 2003.

For thumbnails of the Sprague images, see the Catalogue of the Botanical Art Collection at the Hunt Institute database.

For information about portraits of and biographical citations for the artist, see the Hunt Institute Archives Register of Botanical Biography and Iconography database.

The Houghton Library at Harvard University exhibited approximately 100 of Sprague's paintings, drawings and illustrations from books in 1960.

For more detailed information about Sprague, including a bibliography of books containing his illustrations, see Emanuel D. Rudolph's "Isaac Sprague, 'Delineator and Naturalist'" in the Journal of the History of Biology (1990, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 91–126).

Isaac Sprague (1811–1895), photographic reproduction, 25 × 20 cm, by an unknown photographer probably after an original daguerreotype, HI Archives portrait no. 1.

Selected Artworks

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