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Isaac Sprague Collection
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Isaac Sprague Collection


The Isaac Sprague Collection contains 488 images. Images from this collection have been added to the Catalogue of the Botanical Art Collection at the Hunt Institute database. For quick access to the images in this collection, see the Art Collections page, which features search results for each of the Art Department collections for which images have been added to the database. Otherwise, to locate these images in the database search on the artist’s last name. Some images are in the public domain and can be downloaded from the database. When using an image, please include the following credit statement: Courtesy of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., on indefinite loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Isaac Sprague (1811–1895). HI Archives portrait no. 1.

Isaac Sprague (1811–1895) was born in Hingham, Massachusetts, and apprenticed with his uncle as a carriage painter. He was a self-taught landscape, botanical and ornithological painter. Sprague served as one of the assistants to John James Audubon on an ornithological expedition up the Missouri River (1843), taking measurements and making sketches. His diary of this expedition is in the Boston Athenaeum.

In 1844 Sprague met Asa Gray (1810–1888) of Harvard College, and over many years illustrated several of his works including Gray’s Botanical Text-book (1842), Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, ed. 2 (1856), and the two published volumes of Genera Florae Americae Boreali-Orientalis (1848–1849, discontinued because of lack of financing), containing 186 plates. He did the plates for the atlas (1857) to Gray’s "Botany. Phanerogamia" in Charles Wilkes’ United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 (1845–1876). He illustrated Asa Gray and John Torrey’s various volumes of the U.S. War Department’s Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad Route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean (1855–1860). He also illustrated George B. Emerson’s Report on the Trees and Shrubs Growing Naturally in the Forests of Massachusetts (1846, 1875, ed. 2) and George Goodale’s Wild Flowers of America ([1876–]1882). He illustrated Beautiful Wild Flowers of America (1882), Flowers of Field and Forest (1883) and Wayside Flowers and Ferns (1883), all with text by Alpheus Baker Hervey.

Other resources
Works by Sprague were included in the Hunt Institute’s exhibition American Botanical Prints of Two Centuries and the accompanying catalogue in 2003.

Individual portraits of Sprague are available from the Hunt Institute portrait collection in Archives. Thumbnails of the individual portrait holdings are available as a PDF for research purposes. For publication-quality images, contact the Archivist to place an order.

Biographical citations for Sprague are available from the Hunt Institute biographical collection in Archives as a PDF.

The Houghton Library at Harvard University exhibited approximately 100 of Sprague’s paintings, drawings and illustrations from books in 1960.

For more detailed information about Sprague, including a bibliography of books containing his illustrations, see Emanuel D. Rudolph’s "Isaac Sprague, ‘Delineator and Naturalist’" in the Journal of the History of Biology (1990, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 91–126).


Tupelo tree (Nyssa multiflora), engraving by Isaac Sprague for George Barrell Emerson’s A Report on the Trees and Shrubs Growing Naturally in the Forests of Massachusetts (Boston, Dutton & Wentworth, 1846, pl. 17). HI Art accession no. 3254.
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