In 1952 a bound volume containing 117 watercolors on vellum entered the Morgan's collection from the library of the late Jane Norton Grew Morgan (Mrs. J.P. Morgan, Jr.; 1868-1925). Known familiarly as Jessie Morgan, she was an avid collector of albums of prints and drawings connected to garden history. The drawings in the album reveal traces of having been bound more than once. The sheets were cut from one album, resulting in uneven side margins, and rebound into another one where they were adhered to short stubs. Many of the drawings still contain traces of adhesive on the verso along the left edge. In 1947, fifty-one drawings were removed from the now-lost half-leather binding for inclusion in the Morgan's exhibition Flowers of Ten Centuries. Eventually the entire album was disassembled by 1960.
The album's contents were initially attributed to an artist in the circle of the renowned flower painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840). In 1963, on a visit to the Morgan, Gabrielle Duprat (1898-1999) of the Bibliothè̀que du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, identified the cache as the work of Madeleine Basseporte (1701-1780) and her pupils. Basseporte was a botanical artist who in 1735 became the official painter of Louis XV's garden. She was the first woman to hold this position, which came with a residence in the King's Garden, and she retained the title and residence until her death. Basseporte taught several important Enlightenment era women of science, including the anatomist Marie Marguerite Biheron (1719-1795) and possibly the botanical illustrators Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818) and Marie-Thérèse Reboul (1738-1806). An album of flower drawings in the Bibliothèque nationale de France is fully accepted as the work of Basseporte and provides a close comparison to the Morgan's drawings (BnF, département Estampes et photographie, RESERVE JD- 33 -PET FOL). Both sets of vellums typically represent two varieties of flowers on a page, often enlivened with the presence of insects. The specimens are seen against a blank background and feature double borders in red ink and gold leaf. Some of the Paris drawings also contain inscriptions identifying the flower species in graphite in the same hand as is found on the Morgan sheets.
Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), Louis XV's advisor and a great patron of the arts, frequently commissioned Basseporte to depict flowers growing in the garden of her chateau at Bellevue. Basseporte is said to have incurred debts from the artisans she enlisted to create the "bordures très-riches" likely referring to the decorative red and gold borders of the drawings, which were commissioned by Pompadour. In 1749 Madame de Pompadour advocated for a raise in Basseporte's salary, which Louis XV obliged. That Pompadour commissioned the comparable set of drawings in the Bibliothèque nationale de France around 1750 raises the question of whether she is also the patron responsible for commissioning the Morgan's series of botanical studies. Alden Gordon, who is preparing a biography of Madame de Pompadour's brother, the Marquis de Marigny, is exploring Marigny's protection of Basseporte following his sister's death, which hopefully will shed light on the last decades of her career.
Redouté, Pierre Joseph, 1759-1840, Circle of, Formerly attributed to.
Morgan, Jane Norton, 1868-1925, former owner.
Morgan, Junius Spencer, 1892-1960, former owner.
Morgan, Henry S. (Henry Sturgis), 1900-1982, former owner.
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, Flowers of Ten Centuries, April 28-July 26, 1947, nos. 104-155