Every writer sings Ehret's praises. "The dominant influence in botanical art during the middle years of the 18th century." "One of the finest records of cultivated flowers…." "His accuracy and general excellence as a true botanical artist have never been equaled." And so on…
Born in Heidelberg in 1710, he originally worked as a gardener and practiced drawing in his spare time. Though constantly travelling, Ehret was able to accumulate a large group of friends as well as important benefactors. A Regensburg banker named Leskenkohl was one of these people who Ehret was in service of. It was during this period that Ehret met Dr. Christoph Trew. Trew was to remain a friend and patron of Ehret's throughout his life. Though these were not his only patrons. Ehret's list of benefactors include the most brilliant and generous amateurs of the day, the Margrave of Baden, the Duchess of Portland, Bernard de Jussieu in Paris, and both Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Hans Sloan in London where he wound up settling. It is in England that he became the only foreigner to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Though he worked in a limited field, botanical illustration, Ehret was able to become a master. His engravings are some of the most sought after and important botanical prints in the world. It is no wonder that he became one of the foremost illustrators of botanical images of his time, at a time when it can be said that art of this nature was highly prized and passionately collected.
Two of his most celebrated works are Plantae Selectae and Hortus Nitidissimus. These works were done between the years of 1750 and 1786. Each collection was created with his good friend Christoph Trew, after years of working together. For Plantae Selectae, the level of botanical interest and exotic appeal were how the two chose which illustrations to use. They had to decide on a way to present these tropical subjects to the public that had only recently been introduced to Europe. Johannes Jacobus and Johannes Elias Haid translated Ehret's exceptional and remarkably sensuous watercolors into hand-colored engravings that were represented everything Ehret's work was about. Because of the multitude of exotic plants in Plantae Selectae, it made sense to create a further book on garden plants. The result was Hortus Nitidissimus. With forty-four plates by Ehret, this book is one of the most beautiful florilegia of the eighteenth century. Trew aimed at presenting " a complete selection of the most magnificent tulips and crown imperials; the sweetest hyacinths, daffodils, narcissi, and jonquils; the most charming roses, carnations and snowflakes; and the loveliest lilies, fritillaries, ranunculuses, anemones, and auriculas."
Various scholars at the time of publication praised the book highly, singling out the excellent quality of Ehret's watercolor studies as well as Haid's fidelity to those originals. In a letter to Linnaeus, Dr. Trew called the book "One of the miracles of our century in the natural sciences." In our time, Claus Nissen wrote "the Plantae Selectae became the most beautiful German plant-book; even among foreign works there are few which could compete with it."