Candle bush

Bark, wood, leaves and seeds of the candle bush are all used medicinally; phenolic compounds from the pulverised leaves have been found to be anti-fungal, particularly against ringworm, and anti-bacterial helping the healing of skin. Like many species of Senna, it is also useful as a laxative. This is a large shrub to four metres tall, now found in Africa and Asia, eastwards to Malaysia, though it originated in Mexico. It is the seedpods (not shown in the painting) that are winged, and give the plant its Latin name, as the upright, candle-like flower spikes suggest the English name.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the East India Company controlled much of the Indian subcontinent. Keen to exploit and export valuable natural commodities, the Company set out to record the flora of India and commissioned Indian artists to create detailed botanical illustrations. Many of the plants were known through their use in Ayurvedic medicine. One of the world’s oldest medicinal systems, it has been practised in India for 3,000 years.

Company School style paintings became popular with wealthy Europeans. It was not uncommon for East India Company officials (who were not employed as medics or botanists) to build their own personal collections of paintings depicting Indian flora and fauna. We cannot be sure how local amateur botanist Richard Cresswell came by this collection of 86 Company School works. It is possible Henry Creighton commissioned them during his time as a judge in Calcutta and that on his death the works came back to the UK with his granddaughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.
Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
watercolour on paper
Common Name
Candle bush
Simple Name
Full Name
Cassia alata Linn
total sheet H 555 mm; total sheet length 390 mm
Production Person Surname
unknown Indian artist
Period Classification
George III (1760-1811)
Production Year Low
Production Year High
Production Town
Production County
Production Country
Production Area Region
South Asia
Production Continent
Family Group

Inscription / Transcription
HERB. MUS. EXON CRESSWELL COLLECTION 19/1927; Cassia Alata Linn; No 21

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