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Farmer's Peony

Johanna Helena Herolt

Oak Spring Garden Foundation

Oak Spring Garden Foundation

Johanna Helena Herolt’s watercolors, like those of her mother, Maria Sibylla Merian, reveal a fascination not just with flowers, but also with the metamorphosis of insects. Herolt’s works are similarly embellished with detailed illustrations of the insects associated with the plants she depicted. Daughter and mother collaborated on multiple works, including The Insects of Suriname, which proved especially popular. Today, most of Herolt’s paintings are often misattributed to her famous mother, but Herolt had a unique talent of her own, as this work shows

In this work, Herolt depicts a fly at various stages of its life cycle, from the larvae, to the caterpillar, and the chrysalis. However, the plant is the centerpiece and the peony in this work, bursting with color, demonstrates both her scientific prowess and aesthetic skill. One characteristic that sets Herolt apart from her mother is her diligence in depicting each plant’s imperfections. The stalks of the daffodils, for example, have deadened, wilted edges, while each blade of the arrangement curls. With her access to wild nature, Herolt certainly drew her pieces from life, and she made no efforts to create an idealized illusion. She recreated her specimens precisely, including diverse colors and the impact of incipient decomposition. A true artist-scientist, in addition to her paintings, Herolt herself contributed an appendix on insects in Merian’s Caterpillar Book.

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