The Oxford English Dictionary defines vintage as "something from the past of high quality...representing the best of its kind".
Most vintage art was created by talented professional illustrators, who specialized in accurately portraying the natural world.
There was a high demand for excellent illustrators in the vintage era for several reasons:
First, it was a golden age for exploration. Great expeditions, such as Captain Cook's, discovered new lands, plants and animals. They took excellent artists with them to illustrate their discoveries, which was was important as:
- it helped scientists at home make further deductions, e.g. was it a new species?
- it helped raise money as the illustrations could be sold or be used to excite potential sponsors about future expeditions
For example, the Blue Throated Hummingbird shown below was documented by John Gould for the Zoological Society of London, who then investigated if it was a previously unknown species. The illustration was sold as a hand colored print by the Zoological society.
Second, good illustrations increased revenue, a bit like advertising these days.
For example, many plant nurseries advertised via lavish illustrated catalogues - the Blue Bollea Orchid shown below is from Sir Joseph Paxton's catalogue "The Flower Garden Displayed."
Third, many people made immense fortunes from the industrial revolution and colonisation. It was fashionable for them to be involved in art and science, and they could afford to employ talented artists to illustrate these hobbies.
For example, Sir Henry Englefield was interested classical Rome and Greece and paid to have his collection of vases illustrated - an example is below.
Fourth, photography was rare until the 1900s. Before that if you needed an accurate representation of something (e.g. a newly discovered animal), you needed an artist to illustrate it.
As dealers in vintage and antique art for over 25 years, we have an immense archive of vintage art which we have used to create vintage inspired artworks on this web site. We hope you enjoy exploring our site and discovering art that delights you !