Special Exhibit: Women & The Art of Botanical Illustration
Jane C. Webb Loudon was a British author who wrote an early work of science fiction, entitled “The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century” — a fantastic tale which even included predictions of robots and a type of Internet in the future. Loudon is best known, though, for her many popular gardening books, including works on annuals, perennials, wild flowers, greenhouse plants and bulbs.
She worked directly from her own garden and collaborated extensively with her husband, writer and landscaper John Loudon. Together they were known as the leading horticulturists of their time, and socialized with friends like Charles Dickens among others. After her husband’s death in1843, Jane supported herself and her daughter with a series of popular gardening books that she wrote and illustrated herself.
Although her books were quite popular, Loudon was ultimately not financially successful. She did achieve recognition for her work during her lifetime, though, which was uncommon for a woman at that time. Today Loudon is acclaimed for her extravagant, beautifully composed prints, which are highly collectible. "Loudon's immensely popular prints were largely responsible for making gardening a respectable pursuit for the Victorian gentlewoman." — James Corwin
Elizabeth was born into the wealthy Twining tea family in London at the turn of the 19th century, and her upper-class education and upbringing provided the means for her to pursue personal interests in art and botany. She wrote a number of books on flowering plants, including the two-volume Illustrations on the Natural Orders of Plants, and The Plant World. Prints from the original 1849 and 1855 royal folio edition of Illustrations on the Natural Orders of Plants are exceedingly rare and expensive; all 160 prints were hand-colored and are difficult to find on the market today.
In addition to her botanical work, Elizabeth was a noted philanthropist who established Saint John’s Hospital for the treatment of the poor, and contributed to the founding of Bedford College for Women in London.
Click here to view our selection of over 70 antique botanical prints from Elizabeth Twining.
Over 150 years after Maria Sibylla Merian broke new ground for women with her voyage to Surinam, Belgian artist Berthe Hoola Van Nooten accomplished a similarly incredible feat on the other side of the world. Van Nooten had accompanied her husband on a trip to Jakarta, the capital of Java, one of the largest islands in Indonesia. When he died unexpectedly, however, the young widow found herself alone in a strange country, deeply in debt, with a family to support.
Though unable to afford passage back to Belgium for her family, van Nooten was undeterred by her bleak situation. She realized that flower books were all the rage in Europe, and decided to put her artistic skills to good use by painting the exotic plants and flowers of her home in exile. With Queen Mathilde-Sophie of the Netherlands as her patron, van Nooten produced 40 detailed illustrations of the island's flora, which were subsequently printed in Belgium by famous printmaker P. Depannemaeker.
The result of her hard work, Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages Choisis de l'Ile de Java, was first published in 1863-64 using the new technique of chromolithography. "Van Nooten was clearly a more than competent artist, for the splendid tropical plants, with their lush foliage, vividly colored flowers and exotic fruit, have been depicted with great skill. She managed to accentuate the splendor of each species by adopting a style that combined great precision and clarity with a touch of neo-Baroque exuberance, reveling in the rich forms and colors of the tropics. The reader's eye is immediately captured by the dark leaves, shown furled or crumpled or partly nibbled away by insects, the delicately rendered details of the follicles and seeds, and the heavy clusters of flowers that cascade down the page. The excellent reproduction of the artist's drawings in the form of chromolithographs lends an added tactility to these striking images." — Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi, An Oak Spring Flora.
It is a testament to Berthe Hoola van Nooten's strength, creativity and perseverence that she accomplished such a daunting task under the most difficult of circumstances. Today, van Nooten's work is among the most sought-after of female artists from the 19th century; original prints from Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages typically sell for upwards of $500-1,000 each.
Anne Pratt is one of the best known and most successful female botanical artists of the 19th century. She wrote and illustrated over 20 books on botany intended for the general public, including Wild Flowers and The Flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges and Ferns of Great Britain.
Perhaps owing to her great popular success and lack of formal botanical training, her work does not receive the same critical acclaim as other similarly talented artists of her time. Art historian Wilfred Blunt even suggested that her illustrations “owed a great deal to the artists ... who redrew them on stone.” He provided no context for this criticism, however, which could apply to any artist who did not engrave their own prints.
Pratt's work is both beautiful and accurate, though, and is easily accessible to the new botanical collector due to its widespread availability and relatively low price on the market. Prints typically sell in the range of $10-40, while her books can still be acquired for a few hundred dollars, depending on the print edition and its condition. The affordability of her work can be attributed to the small size of the prints (mostly octavo) and the large number of editions which were printed (1st editions in pristine condition are becoming harder to find).
Though not as widely known as her peers, American artist Clarissa Badger ranks among the great botanical artists of the 19th century. She is best known for her superbly decorative flower paintings; though they are not entirely botanically accurate, they are exceptionally beautiful.
As with many female artists of the time, "[...] little is known about her life other than the landmark dates of her birth, marriage and death [...] Mrs. Badger's fine drawings and talented hand have survived to keep her name alive." — Jack Kramer, Women of Flowers (1996).
Badger authored several books, including Floral Belles from the Green-House and Garden as well as Wild Flowers Drawn and Colored from Nature. Her lavishly illustrated work A Forget-Me-Not, Flowers from Nature, With Selected Poetry (1849) is the rarest American color plate botanical book. There are thought to be only 3 intact copies that are complete as issued, with all the requisite plates.
American botanical artist Maud H. Purdy was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Philadelphia Institute of Art. She moved to Brooklyn, New York around 1890 and opened a salon on Bedford Avenue near the Pratt Institute, where she taught young women the art of painting.
A multi-talented artist, Purdy also designed textiles and tapestries, and decorated china and ceramics. She was hired by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1913, and collaborated with the famed institution for over 30 years. During this time, she illustrated a number of popular books, including Fundamentals of Botany, All About African Violets, and All About Houseplants.
One of her most impressive projects for the Garden was a series of 40 paintings of Japanese irises (several of which were exhibited at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair). Purdy also produced pen-and-ink illustrations of plants collected during the 1930 Astor expedition to the Galápagos Islands.
Her most unusual and innovative work, however, involved the study of plants under a microscope, which marked a dramatic new direction for her art. Purdy's choice of black background and the directness of her composition were unconventional at the time, and helped propel her work from merely descriptive and functional to fully-expressed artwork. Purdy was later called the “best botany illustrator in America” by popular horticulturist Montague Free.
Please check the Resources & Links section at the end of this exhibit for an in-depth, fascinating article about Purdy from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Her work is quite simply, gorgeous.
Miss Louisa Anne Twamley (also known as Louisa Anne Meredith) was born near Birmingham, England in 1812. In her youth, she published a book of poetry entitled Poems, and later wrote and illustrated The Romance of Nature and The Annual of British Landscape Scenery. She married her cousin Charles Meredith in 1839 and moved to exotic Tasmania, where she would live for much of her life. She published several volumes on the natural history of Australia and Tasmania, including Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania and Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned.
Louisa continued to work throughout her life, and traveled to London when she was eighty to oversee printing of Last Series, Bush Friends in Tasmania. Unfortunately, she died in financial ruin; the high cost of publishing her book came at a time of severe economic recession (which may have also contributed to the collapse of the bank where most of her savings were held). (Source: Wikipedia)
Click here to view our selection of hand-colored antique botanical prints from the 1st edition of Louisa Anne Twamley's The Romance of Nature.