Women Botanical Artists part 2

Oak Spring Garden Foundation

Women have played a significant role in the development of plant science through botanical art, yet many have not received due recognition for their work as compared to their male counterparts. Explore the works of women artists ahead of their time whose works are part of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation's collections.

Anna Maria Hussey (1805-1853)
Like Blackwell did in some of her works, Hussey depicted, in detail, the complex anatomical structure of her specimens. It was unusual for Victorian women to engage in scientific study, but Hussey challenged convention not only by illustrating and researching she even did so without the sentimental and aesthetic connotations that related to the gendered notions of her time period. As a British mycologist, her lifetime research and artwork focused on fungi, rather than the painting of flora, which was perceived to be a more feminine pursuit.

Her illustration of the stinkhorn, Phallus impudicus, is captured in her style of realistically-rendered color and a keen eye for texture. She gives equal care to the lifelike illustration of the juicy fruit and stem of the blackberry.

Using the shading of the head and stem, Hussey demonstrated her attention to minute detail and a passion for showing how plants look in their natural habitats. She even included a fly perched atop the plant for scale and context.

Hussey expertly juggled the duties of being the wife of a cleric and mother of six with her passion for mycology. By challenging the woman’s proper place in society during the Victorian era, she was a true feminist of her time.

Hussey’s illustration of Agaricus vellereus presents the fungus’ key anatomical features with extensive detail.

She did not shy away from illustrating dirt and rot, even as she crafted the fine gills of the mushroom.

Somewhat atypically, she ventured outside of her home to find her subjects, traveling to conventionally unladylike terrain she said was in “out-of-the-way wild places, far from carriage tracks.”

Hussey’s unique interest in fungi made her a revolutionary woman artist, one who not only challenged the artistic expectations set out for her, but rejected the sentimental spin on botanical art. Instead, she balanced a love for research and art with her feminine duties.

Henrietta Maria Moriarty (unknown) 
Unlike Hussey, who was eager to draw the grit of fungi, Moriarty herself insisted on painting flora that was not entirely life-like. She deliberately did not take on the convention of illustrating reproductive parts of the flower, the stamens and pistils, in a separate diagram, as was commonly done by her male counterparts. She believed these “delusions” were a danger to the young and ignorant. Henrietta Moriarty’s Viridarium Fifty Plates of Green-house Plants, Drawn and Coloured from Nature. with Concise Descriptions, and Rules for their Culture (1806), dedicated to another botanical collector, Lady Sophia de Clifford, was intended for “those who take delight in plants, but have not the advantage of a gardener who understands them.” Living in Kent in the early nineteenth century, Moriarty produced 50 illustrations of plants, arranged in alphabetical order by their Latin Linnaean binomials. She was interested in each plant’s richness of color and gave advice on how to care for certain plants.

Moriarty wrote of the scarlet-flowered Crassula that “the richness of the colour” made it “much esteemed in the Green-house collection.”

She instructed readers on how to prune the stalks and branches, to use sandy compost, to water it infrequently in the winter, and to keep the plant out of the sun.

An editor of The Journal of Botany suggested that the images Moriarty published had not been drawn from life, but were in fact copied from other illustrations; the spellings of plant names were often incorrect, and her descriptions of plant and their cultivation methods were so sparse so as to suggest her lack of knowledge in gardening. Nevertheless, her drawings demonstrate her confident use of color and lines.

Moriarty was no gardening expert, but she did not allow this disadvantage to affect her artistry. Instead, she gathered information for other people—probably a female audience—to dip their toes in caring for plants.

Sarah Matilda Parry (fl. 1818-1850)
Sarah Matilda Parry lived with her father at their estate, where she produced numerous watercolors of fruits he planted at their orchard between 1818 and up until her father’s death in 1822. Her painting career began long before she lived in Summer Hill and continued after her father’s death. Her work View on the River Wye was awarded the Silver Medal for Original Sketch from Nature by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1801.

Sarah Matilda Parry’s illustrations in Fruits from the Garden of Summer Hill include apples, which were one of her favorite fruit to illustrate. Her collection contained drawings of over 80 apple varieties and 42 pears.

Each illustration is annotated with the name and date of the painting, but a few are noteworthy for their inscriptions, which honor the memory of her father.

Her painting of the three cherries was painted in July 1822, on which she wrote, “The produce of these three trees my dear Father never saw.” He planted them in 1820.

Throughout her artwork, Parry pays a touching tribute to her father, in memory of the garden they had tended together.

Dorothea Eliza Smith (1804-1864)
Parry was not the only woman artist who felt the depth of loss and created art to honor it. Riddled with the tragedy of losing her first husband and daughter in a shipwreck, Dorothea Eliza Smith moved to Peru, where she joined her second husband, Dr. Archibald Smith, and created beautiful botanical art. Little is known about her besides her journey from Scotland to Peru, but she spent at least three years in the South American countryside carefully painting a variety of fruit.

Each of the watercolors in the Fruits of Lima are carefully labeled with the scientific and local names of the fruit. She includes the heights of plants and the size of leaves, as well as when they ripen.

Characteristic of all of her work, this frontispiece demonstrates Smith’s interest in contrasting various colors of fruits and vegetables.

The paintings go beyond depicting the exterior of fruit, displaying their interior features in full glory. Here, she painted the banana in different configurations, including a bunch still on the stalk and an overripe banana.

Unfinished like many of her works, this piece was passed down to her daughter, Isabella, after her husband bound and annotated her labors.

Smith’s second husband maintained her work and made sure it was not hidden away. Some women artists of the time do not have the same records of their lives and associations, making their works both wrought with a lack of recognition and enticingly mysterious.

Dame Anne Hamilton (unknown)
Dame Ann Hamilton was an elusive artist and daughter of a British Member of Parliament. Nothing is known about her life except that her paintings were done between 1772 and 1776.

In The Virginian Flowering Maple, Hamilton depicts the blooming plant native to eastern and central North America. She expertly details the ridges of each branch and the veins of the maple leaves. Hamilton’s style is suggestive of Georg Ehret, Europe’s foremost botanical illustrator of the mid-eighteenth century.

For example, she includes inscriptions of plant names—with their scientific names—at the bottom right of each work. Given the pedigree of Hamilton’s family, historians have speculated a high likelihood that she, like her sister Bridget, had studied under the tutelage of the great artist.

The pearl-tongue aloe, native to Africa, has tubular red flowers that Ann delicately drew onto the gently-curving stalk, which grows out of the fleshy leaves at the base.

While Hamilton painted most of her samples against a plain background, some plants were depicted growing out of the ground, showing the type of soil used for its cultivation, as well as the scale of the plant.

Like Ehret, Hamilton utilized light backgrounds to highlight the plant itself, but still included the soil and base of plants in some of her works. Though little was known about her life, she created work that probably made her a memorable pupil.

Lady Frances Howard (unknown)
Lady Frances Howard, along with Anne Hamilton, was a beloved pupil of Georg Ehret. Little else is known about Howard, but her works are memorable once examined: she paid great attention to sharp details, as well as the vibrant colors of her specimens. Howard additionally notated common and scientific names for reference. This suggests that Howard was interested in more than the artistic endeavor of floral paintings; she seemed involved in the scientific aspects and regional differences between plants. This collection includes four works on blue paper, but she illustrated most specimens on vellum, like many artists of her time.

Lady Frances Howard paid a great deal of attention to the shades of each part of the plant, including the leaves, on which she detailed their sharp edges, folds, and minuscule hairs.

Howard painted petals with unique precision, making the ends sharp and the colors vibrant and accurate.

She created lifelike flowers by also including buds, rather than a perfect and fully bloomed flower, in many of her pieces.

Though little was known about Howard’s life, she pored over her work for hours, demonstrating skills comparable to Ehret. Yet she added her own style when experimenting with rare blue paper, and studying the scientific backgrounds of plants. Her work, the only known collection in the world, is maintained by the Oak Spring Garden Foundation Library.

Elizabeth and Margaret Wharton (unknown)
The only record of the Wharton’s exists in genealogical histories and a singular article in an 1829 copy of The Gentleman’s Magazine in which Elizabeth’s obituary refers to her family and life. Margaret, on the other hand, has been lost in history. Yet their work lives on; the two sisters produced four volumes of botanical art, including grasses, plants, and seaweed. The work dates from 1792 until 1827. Elizabeth’s obituary reveals that they lived at Durham for a time, where they could have perused the Old Durham garden and specimens on the river. For the most part, it seems that Elizabeth created art, but Margaret contributed her work intermittently.

Much of Elizabeth’s work (signed “E.W.”) she left unfinished.

She drew specimens and parts of them on the side without coloring them in.

In the corners of her works, she included buds of rudimentary sketches of branches.

The sisters were not clear as to how their work was divided, but the pieces they painted together were completed and finely detailed. The fine hairs on each individual piece of the paintings showed the meticulous nature of their work.

Despite the mystery of their lives, the Oak Spring Garden Library maintains four manuscript volumes of the flowers, grasses, and seaweeds the sisters encountered and illustrated. At times Elizabeth would include where she spotted plants: sometimes she illustrated them “near Durham,” and at other times she was in the “Garden,” though she rarely or never included the locations when Margaret was involved. By examining the pieces’ locations, their records gift us a lens through which we can piece together the short history of their lives and work.

C.A. Stonehill wrote of Elizabeth that her “close regard to the individual character of the subjects depicted, attest her skill and industry, and would prove a valuable acquisition to science if published to the world.” The quote applies to each woman in the exhibit, who received different levels of recognition, sometimes only after their passing. Today, the stories of their lives, works, and impact on women in science are slowly surfacing, shedding light on their diligence, bravery, and indelible mark on a woman’s role in the marriage of science and art.

Credits: Story

All images are the property of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. All text was provided by staff, interns, and volunteers of Oak Spring Garden LLC, who also curated the exhibit.

Learn more at www.OSGF.org

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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