This is the "Women Artists & Illustrators" page of the "Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden Digitized Collections" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content

Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden Digitized Collections  

Last Updated: May 12, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Women Artists & Illustrators Print Page


Feminine Perspective: Women Artists and Illustrators

Leora Siegel

October 30, 2013  

ILLUSTRATION: Rigid-leaved Gorteria (Gorteria rigens). Rigid-leaved gorteria (Gorteria rigens) by Henrietta Moriarty from the Rare Book Collection of the Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

As I compiled the latest rare book exhibition at the Lenhardt Library, I got to know several fascinating women from the past. They were among the first women to be recognized as botanical illustrators, and their work opened doors for generations of women to follow.

The exhibition, Feminine Perspective: Women Artists and Illustrators, running through November 10, traces the development of women in the field of botanical illustration from at-home hobbyists to professional artists who were published under their own names, with their works represented in the respectable journals, displayed in galleries and art shows, and accepted professionally.

For Henrietta Moriarty who published in 1807 London, botany was a moral dilemma. The renowned botanical theory of plant classification by Carl Linnaeus discusses plant reproduction and reproductive plant parts; the material was decidedly not appropriate for a proper Victorian woman and outright dangerous for a young girl. Moriarty solves this moral dilemma by writing and illustrating her own book, Fifty Plates of Green-House Plants, Drawn and Coloured from Nature, with concise descriptions and rules for their culture. Intended for the improvement of young ladies in the art of drawing, second edition, 1807. Her 50 botanical illustrations are each hand-colored and focused on the beautiful flower with a botanical description but lack any discussion or representation of plant reproductive processes. Moriarty, a widow with children, needed to support her family and found writing and illustrating a botany book to be productive. She presold 180 copies by subscription.

 View each page of this lovely book online at the Illinois Digital Archives.

ILLUSTRATION: Italian pimpernel (Anagallis monellis). Italian pimpernel (Anagallis monellis) by Henrietta Moriarty from the Rare Book Collection of the Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden

To hear more stories on the personal circumstances and the success of women in botanical illustration, come into the library!

We’d love to share more about these illustrators and more:

  • Lady Harriet Ann Thiselton-Dyer (1854 – 1945)
  • Henriette Antoinette Vincent (1786 – 1834)
  • Ellen Robbins (1828 – 1905)

Illustration by Henriette Antoinette Vincent (1786 – 1834)


Illustration by Ellen Robbins (1828 – 1905)


For a schedule of upcoming exhibitions and library talks,

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Henriette Antoinette Vincent (1786-1834)


Illustrations : Henriette Antoinette Vincent

Ellen Robbins (1828 – 1905)


Illustrations: Ellen Robbins

  • Autumnal Leaves
    Ellen Robbins (1828 – 1905)
  • Stories from the Rare Book Collection: Ellen Robbins, New England's extraordinary watercolorist and floral artist
    The Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden has a number of special and unique works in its collection, but none more spectacular than Ellen Robbins's collection of 18 watercolors. These stunning illustrations on 18 plates capture different leaves and branches at the height of their autumn color. These plates are so realistic that on several occasions, exhibits of these watercolors in the Library have initially confused visitors, imagining the watercolors to be actual specimens from the field, rather than artistic renditions.

Helen Sharp, 18 Albums, 1888-1910

Illustrations: Helen Sharp

[Water-color sketches of plants of North America and Europe], 1888 June-1910 Sept.

Eighteen albums of water-color sketches by Helen Sharp of flowering plants and shrubs common to the United States, especially New England, as well as to Bermuda and parts of Europe, dated between June 1888 and Sept. 1910. Sketches in water-color and ink on paper (26 x 18 cm. or smaller) include botanical captions in Latin, along with Sharp's notes on the common name and physical characteristics of each plant, and location and date of drawing. There is also a table of contents at the front of each sketchbook. The first 16 albums contain sketches of plants common in New England, in towns of Massachusetts such as Nantucket, Taunton, Boston, No. Andover, Marblehead, Hingham, Gloucester; Maine (York, Sorrento); New Hampshire (Surrey), and Connecticut. Volume 17 contains sketches of plants made by the artist while traveling in Switzerland, Italy, England, and France, while v. 18 contains sketches of tropical fruits and flowers of Bermuda, completed during Sharp's visits of 1892, 1893, and 1903.

"These drawings were made from nature by Miss Helen Sharp, and have been used in part in the botanical classes of the Lowell Free Courses of the Teachers' School of Science [of the Boston Society of Natural History] ... This collection includes sketches of about seven hundred species ... arranged in accordance with the classification in Gray's Manual"; cf. printed announcement of an exhibition of Sharp's drawings at the Boston Society of Natural History in April 1899 affixed to inside front cover of v.1.


Loading  Loading...