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Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations
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 The Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations

The Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations is the original collection of botanical and zoological illustrations made during the Spanish exploring expedition of 1787–1803 sent to New Spain under the command of Martin de Sessé y Lacasta (1751–1808) and Jose Mariano Mociño (1757–1820). The drawings were executed by a number of artists including Juan de Dios Vicente de la Cerda, Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy, Jose Guio and Pedro Oliver. The collection comprises approximately 2,000 watercolor drawings and sketches; about 1,800 are of botanical subjects (the remainder of fish, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals).

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, users can locate these items in the database by entering "Sessé and Mociño" in the artist's name field. Erased information is indicated by {}. Information on zoological subjects can be located in the Description field (try Aves, Osteichthyes, etc.). To inquire about publishing these images, please contact the Art Department.




Hibiscus uncinellus, detail of watercolor, Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations. HI Art accession no. 6331.1422.

History of the Torner Collection
In 1981 the Institute acquired the original collection of botanical and zoological illustrations made during the Spanish exploring expedition of 1787–1803 sent to New Spain under the command of Martin de Sessé y Lacasta and José Mariano Mociño. The collection comprises approximately 2,000 watercolor drawings and sketches; about 1,800 are of botanical subjects and the remainder are of various animal species (fish, birds, insects, reptiles and small mammals). It was purchased for the Institute's permanent collection by the Hunt Foundation.

The Sessé and Mociño expedition, as it is commonly called, explored extensively in the Caribbean, Mexico and northern Central America, with forays also in Baja and Alta California and as far north as Nootka and Alaska. The drawings were executed by a number of artists, the most accomplished of whom were Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy and Juan Vicente de la Cerda. In technical and artistic quality, Echeverría's work compares favorably with any other in the history of biological illustration. Notwithstanding this artistic excellence, the chief value of the collection lies in its scientific and historical significance.

By the time the expedition returned to Spain, the political situation there had changed significantly, and the extensive results embodied in the collection of specimens, manuscripts and the drawings could not be brought to fruition. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that Sessé and Mociño's two working manuscripts, "Flora Mexicana" and "Plantae Novae Hispaniae," were finally published (in Mexico), unedited and without illustration. The manuscripts and plant specimens had gone to Madrid, where they remain, but the drawings were still in Mociño's possession when he fled Spain for political reasons, by which time Sessé had already died. In due course, Mociño made his way — on foot, with the drawings in a wheelbarrow, it is reported — to the botanic garden in Montpellier, then directed by A. P. de Candolle. Mociño remained there for a number of years, during which time de Candolle, other botanists and one or more zoologists studied the drawings, eventually publishing many descriptions of new species based on them. De Candolle studied the entire collection quite carefully, in connection with work on his famous Prodromus, and annotations in his hand appear on a great many of the drawings. When the political climate in Spain turned favorable for Mociño again, he returned there, leaving the drawings with de Candolle, who had meanwhile moved to the botanic garden in Geneva. In due course, Mociño requested that the drawings be sent on to him, and de Candolle could only comply. However, realizing the scientific importance of the drawings, and fearing for their future safety, de Candolle hurriedly organized an effort to copy as many of them as possible before their return to Spain. About 1,000 were thus copied by an "assembly line" of Geneva ladies, with varying degrees of artistic skill. Those copies are still at Geneva, together with several hundred duplicate original drawings which Mociño had given to de Candolle. (For various reasons, many of the original drawings had been copied by the expedition artists themselves; besides such "original" copies at Geneva, there are a number in Madrid and in the collection now at the Institute.)

Mociño died in Barcelona in 1820, not long after his return from France, in penurious circumstances and still having been unable to organize any production from the expedition results. The disposition of his effects remains unknown and, from then until 1980, the original collection had been effectively lost to science, and was feared to be no longer extant. Its recent rediscovery is thus a notable occurrence for science and history.

It turns out that since some time in the 1880s, the collection had been in the library of the Torner family of Barcelona, now owned by Srs. Jaime and Luis Torner Pannochia. The library, with the drawings unrecognized for what they were, came to them from their father, who inherited it from his brother, its originator. The history of the drawings during the approximately 60 years between 1820 and their acquisition by the present owners' uncle remains a mystery. In honor of the Torner family's preservation of this irreplaceable and truly invaluable collection (the drawings are in remarkably good condition considering their age and earlier vicissitudes), it is known at the Institute as "The Torner Collection of Sessé & Mociño Biological Illustrations."

Other resources
This Torner Collection also is available for purchase on CD-ROM. In addition to 1,989 full-color digital reproductions, the CD-ROM contains a catalogue and a historical introduction by Rogers McVaugh, noted authority on the expedition. The drawings may be searched by genus, family, title or accession number. A larger resolution image of each artwork is available. A special feature of the CD-ROM is the Curator's Choice, which permits the user to easily view one hundred of the most beautiful and interesting examples from the collection. The original illustrations are extraordinarily beautiful, and the scanned images convey their beauty effectively. The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation and the University Library have produced this CD to make these images more accessible to researchers and others interested in such illustrations. The CD is published by the Carnegie Mellon CD Press and is available for purchase on our Publications page.

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

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

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