Walter Hood Fitch, a Scottish botanical artist and illustrator, was born Feb. 28, 1817. While still quite young, Fitch came to the attention of William J. Hooker, who was professor of botany in Glasgow and had inherited the editorship of Curtis’ Botanical Magazine (CBM). Hooker invited Fitch to contribute some illustrations for the magazine and Fitch did so; his first watercolors, converted to lithographs, were published in 1834, when he was just 17 years old. Fitch continued to collaborate with Hooker for the next forty years. When Hooker was appointed Director of Kew Gardens in 1841 and moved to London, Fitch went with him. Several of Fitch’s illustrations for CBM are shown above: a Nepalese poppy (first image), a gentian (second image), a saxifrage (third image), and a barbery from Chile (fourth image). The last is of interest because it was introduced to Kew Gardens by Charles Darwin, who brought back specimens from South America. Two more of Fitch’s illustrations for Curtis’ Botanical Magazine were displayed in our 2009 exhibition, The Grandeur of Life.
Fitch also illustrated a number of monographs, such as an 1851 publication by Hooker on the Victoria regia, the giant Amazonian water lily that proved to be quite a sensation in Victorian England. We do not own this work; the illustrations above (fifth and sixth images) are from the copy at the New York Public Library.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City