FERNS
INTRODUCTION

Amongst the personal effects included in J.W.L. Glaisher's 1928 bequest of pottery and porcelain to the Fitzwilliam Museum was some of his mother's work, including 182 photogenic drawing negatives and 106 salted paper prints of ferns. The Museum did not collect photography at the time, and the material has remained relatively unseen ever since.

Cecilia Glaisher (1828-92) created these images between approximately 1853 and 1856. Some of them were intended for a planned publication, The British Ferns: Represented in a Series of Photographs from Nature by Mrs Glaisher, with the publisher and fern expert Edward Newman during what has come to be known as the 'Victorian fern craze' 1.

The Athenaeum of June 16th, 1855, reported that a collection of photographs of British ferns, from specimens selected by Mr Newman, had been exhibited during a scientific conversazione at the Royal Society the previous week:

"These beautiful copies, the size of life, and perfect in all their details, promise to be of value to the botanist, to whose requirements they are better adapted than any that have yet been placed at his command. Their effect is that of delicate sepia drawings, and at the same time that the venation of the leaves is displayed with the fidelity and delicacy of the original, it is, as in nature, only to be detected on near inspection. Our acquaintance with the natural history of the ferns, and their peculiar elegance of form, is likely to be much increased by this valuable and interesting series, which we understand, is in course of publication by Mr. Newman."

As a result of recent digital copying, the material can now be studied in detail for the first time. This online exhibition aims to introduce Cecilia Glaisher's work, and give an idea of what the unrealised publication with Newman hoped to achieve.

Go to the Gallery to see all of the ferns in the Museum's collection. They have been catalogued by species according to the third edition of Edward Newman's A History of British Ferns, published in 1854, a book that Cecilia Glaisher was familiar with.


1. For more information on the Victorian Fern Craze, see The Victorian Fern Craze: A History of Pteridomania by David Elliston Allen (Hutchinsons, 1969) and Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania by Sarah Whittingham (Frances Lincoln, 2012).


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The Fitzwilliam Museum : Ferns