James Bateman (1811-1897) had a passion for horticulture and considerable means, which enabled him to amass a renowned collection of orchids and to seek out unusual specimens throughout other collections in Great Britain, including the famous greenhouses owned by the Duke of Devonshire. At his house in Staffordshire, he built extensive greenhouses, where he cultivated his orchids and produced his first and most splendid work, “The Orchidacaea of Mexico and Guatemala.” He had several artists work on the project with him, including August Withers and Sarah Drake.
In the next thirty years, Bateman contributed generously to books by other publishers. Within the field of natural history, Bateman's “Orchidacaea” is among the finest lithographic illustration ever published, as well as the most rare, for only 125 copies were printed.
Augusta Withers- never published a work under her own name but her contribution to nineteenth-century botanical illustration was profound. A prolific artist and teacher, she contributed hundreds of plates to popular botanical journals and became “Flower Painter in Ordinary” to Queen Adelaide. After the death of both her husband and patron, Queen Adelaide, Withers was left destitute. She applied for the post of Botanical Flower Painter at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew but was rejected because the position was not open to women. This talented woman died in poverty.
Like her female contemporary Augusta Withers, Sarah Drake contributed illustrations to James Bateman’s Orchidacaea of Mexico and Guatemala, again receiving little recognition for her work. She was a skilled draughtswoman and became an accomplished botanical artist under the tutelage of John Lindley, professor of Botany at the University of London. Indeed, “Ducky” as she was affectionately known, lived at his family home of Acton Green. Sarah Drake’s connection to the influential Lindley most probably helped her to secure work on Bateman’s Orchidacaea.