Special Exhibit: Women & The Art of Botanical Illustration
Lilian Snelling was the principal artist for William Curtis’s Botanical Magazine for 30 years, and contributed over 830 illustrations before her retirement in 1952 (she was succeeded by Margaret Stones). Until 1948, Snelling was one of the last botanical artists who worked in the 19th century tradition of drawing her original watercolors onto zinc plates for publication. She then hand-painted a master print for a team of professional colorists to copy.
Snelling also produced drawings for one volume of the rare Supplement to Elwes’ Monograph on the Genus Lilium, and illustrated F.C. Stern’s A Study of the Genus Pæonia (Royal Horticultural Society, London, 1946). She maintained high standards of quality throughout her huge volume of work, which included over 400 watercolors she painted of rhododendrons and primulas at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh between 1918-21. "This was the first exhibition of these drawings, by an artist considered to be ‘the greatest botanical artist of her time.’" — RBG, Edinburgh
Born into a wealthy Quaker family in Philadelphia, Mary Morris Vaux showed an interest in painting from a young age. After graduating school, she took up watercolor painting, and began sketching the native wild flowers she saw on family trips to the Rocky Mountains in Canada.
She would later return to the Rockies on expeditions with her husband, paleontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott, who was then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Walcott continued painting during these many trips, and assembled a portfolio of 400 wild flower paintings. These watercolors were published at great expense by the Smithsonian Institution in 1925 in a five-volume work entitled North American Wildflowers.
In 1935, the Smithsonian published Illustrations of North American Pitcher-Plants, which included 15 of her paintings on the genus sarracenia. Walcott also served on the Federal Board of Indian Commissioners from 1927-32, and was elected President of the Society of Woman Geographers in 1933.
Walcott's illustrations of native plants and flowers have been widely praised for both their beauty and accuracy, and she was often called the “Audubon of botany.” Her work captures the fleeting spirit of many North American wild flowers, including rare native orchids and unusual pitcher plants among others.
Walcott's accomplishments are most notable during a time when few American women were so actively involved in scientific research. She braved rugged mountain climbs (including the 10,496 foot peak ascent of Mt. Stephen in British Columbia, Canada in 1900), freezing temperatures and long treks through the woods and fields of North America to produce a true work of art in the history of botanical illustration.
We are pleased to present over 200 of Walcott's antique botanical prints from a deluxe first edition folio of North American Wildflowers, published in 1925 and limited to only 500 copies (click here to view the prints).
Margaret Ursula Mee is one of the best-known botanical artists of the 20th century, as well as an intrepid explorer and dedicated conservationist. She moved from her native England to Brazil in 1952 along with her husband, and began teaching art in São Paulo. Her first paintings of Brazil's exotic flora were bromeliads from the Serra do Mar region along the Atlantic coast.
Shortly thereafter, Mee began the first of over 15 expeditions through the Amazon river area — journeys which would end up spanning more than three decades of her career. Mee often traveled great distances through dangerous and uncharted regions in a small canoe, with a lone Tucano Indian as her guide. She overcame many hardships — including life-threatening bouts with malaria and tropical fevers, as well as nearly drowning on several occasions — to document the plants and animals deep within the Amazon.
Mee's botanical illustrations have been acclaimed by botanists and art critics alike for their incredible detail and accuracy. Her precise technique involved creating multiple working sketches while on location as well as mixing her paints to match the exact hue of her subject. She took copious notes on the plant's color and habitat, and where possible, live specimens were collected and brought back to her studio for the final composition.
Upon seeing her work for the first time in London, botanical art authority Wilfrid Blunt commented, "They are splendid, magnificently composed, superbly reproduced . . . and can stand without shame in the high company of such 18th-century masters as Georg Dionysius Ehret and Redouté."
In addition to her botanical art, Mee was a pioneering conservationist who raised awareness about the exploitation of the Amazonian rain forest at a time when illegal mining, logging and deforestation were at an all-time high. She imbued her artwork with a powerful message of conservation by showing the destroyed forest in her sketches, and she continued to speak about the destruction of the Amazon until her death in 1988. Margaret Mee is truly one of the most remarkable women in the history of botanical art.
We are very pleased to offer a selection of rare elephant folio prints from Mee's Brazilian Bromeliads here.
Mary Grierson is a prolific British botanical artist with a career spanning many decades. Mary first worked as a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force flight officer during World War II, and later as a cartographer. She became the official botanical illustrator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 1960 until the early 1970s, and received five gold medals for her illustrations from the Royal Horticultural Society. Additionally, her work has been featured on postage stamps, as well as designs for the Franklin Mint.
Grierson's paintings are part of the collections of many prominent institutions, including the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. She has illustrated numerous books, including Mountain Flowers, The Genus Cyclamen, P.F. Hunt’s magnificent Orchidaceæ, The Country Life of Orchids, An English Florilegium, A Hawaiian Florilegium, and Hellebores among others.
We have a selection of Mary's work here.
Margaret Stones is one of Australia’s most prominent botanical artists, and was the principal illustrator for William Curtis's Botanical Magazine for over twenty-five years, having succeeded Lilian Snelling. Stones produced some 400 watercolors for the magazine during this time, in addition to the over 250 drawings she did for The Endemic Flora of Tasmania (published in six volumes between 1967-78) and the Flora of Louisiana (1977-87).
In 1976, Stones was awarded the Veitch Silver Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society in London, and in 1986 she received the Veitch Gold Medal for "outstanding contribution to botany and plant conservation."
"Commenting on Margaret Stones’s botanical knowledge and experience, Tasmanian botanist Dr. Winifrid Curtis ‘recalled that Stones never needed to be told, but invariably knew, which sections to draw in order to facilitate correct taxonomical classification.’" — Irena Zdanowicz, Beauty in Truth (1996).
We are pleased to offer over 100 prints from Margaret Stones (click here to view). Other prominent female artists from Curtis's Botanical Magazine include Christabel King, Stella Ross-Craig and Pandora Sellars.
One of Great Britain's most celebrated botanical artists, Coral Guest is renowned for her life-size watercolors of flowers and fruits. She studied at the Harrow School of Art and the Chelsea School of Art, and received both the Drawing Scholarship and the Travel Scholarship in addition to studying Zen Calligraphy at Seitai-Ji Temple in Japan.
Guest's work is widely represented in national collections, including that of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society (which has awarded her two gold medals), as well as the Dr. Shirley Sherwood Collection of Contemporary Botanical Art. Guest is known for her paintings of white flowers, which are technically difficult to execute without using white paint. From a BBC Four interview with Guest:
"For the flower painter to paint white lilies on a white background, that is a real challenge because in fact there is actually no white paint used. [...] Through studies you can work out a way to describe the flower so that it can appear on a piece of white paper without using white paint and appear to be completely solid, and completely living on the page."
We are pleased to present a complete selection of imperial folio prints from Guest's The Royal Roses of London (click here to view).
David Attenborough, Amazing Rare Things.
Elizabeth Blackwell: A Curious Herbal.
Wilfred Blunt, The Art of Botanical Illustration.
Maria Sibylla Merian at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, June 10-August 31, 2008
Berthe Hoola van Nooten: Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages (digitized copy).
Maud H. Purdy: Drawing from Life, Imagining Plants.
Sacheverell Sitwell & Wilfred Blunt, Great Flower Books, 1700-1900.
Lucia Tomasi, An Oak Spring Flora.
Irena Zdanowicz, Beauty in Truth: The Botanical Art of Margaret Stones.
Digital downloads in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. These digitized copies of selected botanical works are free to download for non-commercial use, courtesy of Botanicus — a freely accessible, Web-based encyclopedia of digitized 18th and 19th century botanical literature from the Missouri Botanical Garden Library.
James Bateman, Orchidaceæ of Mexico and Guatemala (10.5 MB).
Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal (33.4 MB).
Priscilla Susan Bury, A Selection of Hexandrian Plants (9.8 MB).
John Lindley, Sertum Orchidaceum (18.3 MB).
Berthe Hoola van Nooten, Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages (7.6 MB)