WALTER HOOD FITCH (1817 – 1892)
Perhaps the best known of the artists of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine was Walter Hood Fitch, a remarkably productive illustrator with more than 12,000 botanical drawings published during his career. He had a distinctively bold compositional style and a unique talent for the dramatic placement of a plant within the confines of the page.
Fitch was training as a fabric printer in Glasgow when William Hooker, Professor of Botany at Glasgow University and editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, hired him as an assistant to mount and draw plant specimens. Hooker soon found that Fitch possessed a keen ability for depicting plants, and in 1834 Fitch’s first illustration appear in the magazine. He soon became its sole artist, contributing 2894 plates over 44 years.
William Hooker became director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1841, and Fitch moved with him to London and remained in his employ for the next twenty years. During these years Fitch contributed illustrations to numerous botanical monographs, textbooks, and horticultural magazines and did so with extraordinary speed.
Fitch had become skilled enough with the lithographic stone that he could draw his botanical subjects directly on the stone, usually without benefit of preliminary sketches, and thereby save considerable time.
At his death, in 1892, Fitch was regarded as the most distinguished botanical artist in Europe. In addition to his vast legacy of illustrations, he left a worthy successor in his nephew, John Nugent Fitch, whom he had trained in botanical drawing and lithography and who also became an illustrator for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.