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Women Botanical Artists In the 19th Century

Many women in the 19th century developed a high level of skill as botanical artists but were rarely recognized as professionals.

a photo taken of the title page and an illustration in an open book by Beatrix Potter.

Photo: Dukal

Beatrix Potter overcame barriers that faced many women artists during the 19th century and succeeded in creating beautifully illustrated children's books. She was also a skilled botanical artist.

The Trials of 19th Century Women Botanical Artists

Painting flowers as a past-time was considered an appropriate and genteel activity for cultured women who lived in comfortable circumstances during the 19th Century. While women were allowed to engage in scientific study–painting natural specimens and learning a great deal about botany–there was little recognition available to women who engaged seriously in such pursuits.

Many women in the 19th century developed a high level of skill as botanical artists, but were rarely treated with legitimacy as professionals. Due to these limitations,  they often painted for personal fulfillment and only shared their work with a small circle of family and friends. The few who did publish their work or try to make a living from it, used masculine names.

Though there were many women who worked as amateur botanical artists, some of them developed a very high level of technical proficiency in their representation of plants and flowers. However, no matter how skillful or talented they were, there were no galleries available for them to display their work publicly nor avenues open to them to benefit financially from their achievements.

Two Exceptional Women

  • Augusta Withers lived in London and became the flower painter in the royal court of Queen Adelaide. She was one of very few women who were known for their artistic work.
  • Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit, was a painter who approached her nature paintings scientifically. She became especially adept at research into fungi and mosses. However, as a woman, she could not present her own research at scientific meetings. She had to ask a man to present it for her.
Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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