Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts Ltd

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An Extraordinary Collection Of 20 Botanical Pictures





Carl Ulke, Victoria Regia, graphite, watercolour and inscription, signed and dated, 193 x 305 mm


Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts Ltd is delighted to announce the exhibition of a collection of botanical pictures which are coming onto the market for the first time.  These beautiful pictures have come directly through the family, and Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts Ltd is acting for the family. This is a fascinating trove of pictures by these skilled artists.


These 20 pictures by father and son artists, Carl and Henry Ulke, are part of an exhibition opening on 28 June during Master Drawings and Sculpture Week, part of London Art Week, called The Art of Botanical Pictures: Still Life’s and Plants. The father, Carl Ulke (1791-1882) spent most of his life in Germany and was by profession a typesetter and publisher. These art works remained in trunks in the family archive until now. Carl Ulke  ran a lodge for boarders and had a small art gallery, and from the exquisite botanicals, we can assume that he was Henry Ulke’s first teacher. Henry's autobiography mentions his father painting, but more in the context of Henry as a young child coveting his father's pencils. Carl visited the US several times, most probably to visit family members, including his son Henry but went back to Germany and died there. These watercolours are remarkable in their skill and ability and come from a tradition of botanical drawing in Germany such as Georg Dionysius Ehret and Barbara Regina Dietzsch. The fact this artist has not been seen on the market before can be simply explained by the fact the pieces have remained with the family.


Henry Ulke was born in Frankenstein in southern Prussia in Germany in 1821 and died in Washington D.C. in 1910. The life of Henry is quite extraordinary. One of his claims to fame is his portrait of President Ulysses S. Grant which hangs in the White House. Henry Ulke is a famous portrait painter with more than 300 portraits in US government and private collections today. He had connections socially and politically to the presidents, indeed he was one of the few eyewitnesses of the tragic death of President Lincoln, after the president had been shot in Ford’s Theatre he was carried across the street to Peterson house in which Henry Ulke and his brother resided.


Henry Ulke was not known outside his immediate family to have painted botanicals. This was a sideline for his own pleasure and these pieces remained in family hands until now. This artistic aspect of his work fits with another facet of the man, that he was a member of the Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia and an avid collector of beetles. He spent countless hours in the woods and amassed tens of thousands of beetles over his lifetime, a collection he sold in 1900 to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.


Henry Ulke’s abilities also extended to writing and before his emigration to the US he contributed to a comic publication ‘Kladderadatsch’, as well as the revolutionary ‘Rütli Zeitungen’, circa 1845-6, and was associated with freedom aspiring enthusiasts such as Titus Ullrich in Berlin. In 1852 Henry emigrated to America to join two of his younger brothers who had already moved there. Henry busied himself with photographic work and prepared daguerreotypes.  He also produced photographic portrait prints of famous individuals of the period and was so successful that he was able to invite his parents and brothers and sister to join to him at his expense. In 1860 Henry set up in Washington a studio for portrait painting and photography. Henry was clearly a man of great intellect and travelled back to Germany and Europe between 1868 and 1870 and in Weimer mixed with some of the greatest composers and literati of the day including Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner.

Also included in the exhibition of The Art of Botanical Pictures: Still Life’s and Plants is an album of 19th century watercolours by an Anonymous British School artist, which has a fascinating provenance discovery, works by female artists from Holland included Cornelia Maria Haakman and Maria Margaretha Van Os.


Henry Ulke in his studio


Where: The Illustration Cupboard, at 22 Bury Street, St.James's, London, SW1Y 6AL

When: 28 June-5 July

Further details:

Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts Ltd, Summergill, Kirkby Malham, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 4BS, England

Tel: +44 (0)1729 830 734

Mobile: +44(0)7771 552509