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COLLECTION Identifier: arn00018

Warren Delano collection of Chinese export paintings of fruits, flowers, and vegetables

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of Chinese export paintings of fruits, flowers, and vegetables collected by Warren Delano. The paintings were likely produced in Canton, present-day Guangzhou, by various artists. There are 600 illustrations, 583 are watercolors and 17 are prints. The illustrations are from circa 1794-1852, with the bulk of the materials from 1794-1829. The collection dates were taken from watermarks.

The watercolors feature several types of writing. There are notations on the recto in English, Latin, and/or Chinese characters executed in graphite, brown, blue, and/or black ink. Some also have Chinese characters written in graphite on the back.

The Chinese characters in (thick) black ink were likely made by the artists. Scientific names of plants are written in latin script in black ink; these names were likely added by Harvard Herbaria staff after donation. In faded brown ink there are romanizations of the Chinese characters and common names of plants. It is not known who made the brown ink notations. Many of the illustrations have additional descriptions written in pencil.


  • Creation: circa 1794-1852
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1794-1829


Physical Description

The paper sizes vary with the average measuring approximately 40 x 50 cm. The collection includes a number of larger watercolors which also vary in size. One of the largest is approximately 60 x 48 cm. The collection also includes some small watercolors, one is a partial sheet and two are cropped. Of these, one is only partially colored. Four of the watercolors have been mounted on board.

Some of the sheets have watermarks. The watermarks are primarily J. Whatman with a smaller number of I. Taylor and one Ruse & Turner's 1852. The earliest dated Whatman is 1794 and the latest is 1829. The date assigned to the collection is based on the watermarks. A few of the watercolors have a black ink owner's stamp of a shield with a fire-breathing dragon on top located at one corner.

The watercolors feature graphite under-drawing and were executed primarily on various beige western handmade wove papers with a smaller number on blued-white (blue pigment visible under magnification) laid paper. Some watercolors have glaze on select areas of media. A small number have a coating or glaze with grain-like pattern on the entire recto of paper which appears to be underneath the media. The prints are possibly collotypes of silk paintings printed in black ink on Asian paper and mounted with silk or paper margins and Asian paper linings on the verso. Eleven of these have hand-coloring executed in watercolor.

Several of the watercolors have previous paper repairs which were retained.


4.75 linear feet (19 oversize flat boxes; 2 oversize wooden boxes) : 600 sheets (583 are watercolors and 17 are prints)


There are identifying numbers written in pencil on the top left of the painting recto or the bottom right on the painting verso. Numbers on the painting rectos may be Delano numbers. Numbers on the verso may be Harvard University Herbaria staff or library staff numbers. The numbers are non-consecutive and are repeated towards the end of the collection. The paintings are arranged numerically by the numbers on the painting rectos first and then by the numbers on the backs.


Frederic A. Delano gifted the collection to the Arnold Arboretum Library in honor of his father Warren Delano.

In his presentation letter Mr. Delano writes, "My father, Warren Delano, was one of the early Boston merchants engaged in the China trade -- and went there in 1835. He lived in China for more than 20 years, between 1835 and 1866, chiefly in Canton, Macao, and Hong Kong connected with the House of Russell & Co. During his stay he endeavored to learn about the products of the country and in the [18]40's he collected and had drawn by Chinese artists of over 500 paintings of 200 or more fruits, flowers, and vegetables..."

"The paintings were presented in two large mahogany boxes fashioned in the likeness of books, in which the elder Mr. Delano had preserved them."-- Journal of the Arnold Arboretum. 1930. 11(2): 131-132.

Variant title

Collection formerly referred to as: Paintings of Chinese fruits, flowers, and vegetables, natural size by native artists, approximately 1794-1832.

Conservation and digitization note

This collection was conserved by Harvard Library Weissman Preservation Center from 2019-2022. Detailed conservation information is kept by the repository. Harvard's Imaging Services department digitized this collection as part of the "Original botanical illustrations of the Botany Libraries" project.

Processing Information

The collection was originally stored in two large wooden boxes. In the 2000s the collection was rehoused into four flat oversize boxes. In 2018 the collection was refoldered, interleaved, and rehoused into nine oversize flat boxes. In 2019-2020 the collection underwent conservation treatment in preparation for digitization. During conservation evaluation it was discovered that the paint was very fragile so the collection was conserved and rehoused into 19 boxes.

Processing note: painting titles

Painting titles are taken directly from the scientific names written in black or blue ink on painting rectos. Some paintings do not have black or blue ink scientific names, so those titles were taken from other writing on the paintings or were supplied by staff, and are in square brackets. Spelling corrections follow in square brackets.



Warren Delano collection of Chinese export paintings of fruits, flowers, and vegetables, circa 1794-1852, bulk 1794-1829: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Arnold Arboretum Library (Cambridge), Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Arnold Arboretum Library (Cambridge), Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Arnold Arboretum Library in Cambridge specializes in the identification and classification of Old World plants with emphasis on Asia. The Archives of the Arnold Arboretum (Cambridge) houses unique resources, primarily field notes related to the plant specimens housed in Cambridge.

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