Curtis began his work as an apothecary, a term used for a medical professional who formulates and dispenses medical material to physicians, surgeons and patients just like today’s chemist.
He turned his attention to his interest in botany and other natural history at a later date. The publications he prepared effectively reached a wider audience and at the age of 25, he produced Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies.
Curtis was demonstrator of plants and Praefectus Horti at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 1771 to 1777 before establishing his own London Botanic Garden at Lambeth in 1779, moving to Brompton in 1789.
He published Flora Londinensis (6 volumes, 1777–1798), a pioneering work in that it devoted itself to urban nature.
Financial success was not found with Flora Londonensis but he went on to publish The Botanical Magazine in 1787, a work that would also feature hand coloured plates by artists such as James Sowerby and Sydenham Edwards.
Curtis, botanical Magazine is the world’s longest running, continuously published botanical periodical featuring original colour illustrations of plants.
Curtis was to gain wealth from the ventures into publishing, short sales on Londinensis were offset by over 3,000 copies of the Botanical Magazine. Curtis said they had each brought 'pudding or praise'.
The genus Curtisia is named in his honour.
His publication was continued as the esteemed botanical publication, Curtis's Botanical Magazine. The noted natural history illustrators, James Sowerby and Sydenham Edwards both found a start with the eminent magazine.
He is commemorated in a stained glass window at St. Mary's Church, Battersea, as many of his samples were collected from the churchyard there.
Related Tag: Buy Botanical Prints