When Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon was a child, she was far more interested in examining the nuances of her grandmother’s garden than in the usual girlhood pursuits. When she died in 2014, she left behind an amazing botanical legacy, which is shared through the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, headquartered on the site of her former estate. Throughout her life, she amassed a collection of horticultural-themed books, art, and manuscripts that are displayed in the whitewashed-stone library on the property. Within the collection are the works of women botanical artists, many of whom never received the recognition they so richly deserved. OSGF has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to shine the spotlight on these amazing women and their contributions to the field of botany. Here are a few samples from Oak Spring’s library:
Desert Honeysuckles by Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)
A woman ahead of her time, botanist Maria Sibylla Merian is considered the first artist to depict insects in their natural habitats. In the eighteenth century, Europe was mesmerized by books featuring her life-size paintings and detailed research on both local species and the more exotic sorts found during her time spent in Suriname. She also conducted studies into the reproductive systems of insects—a subject thought “unladylike” at the time—and was admired for her business acumen and extensive knowledge of natural science.
Two Tulips and Two Irises by Johanna Helena Herolt (c. 1668-1723)
As the daughter of Maria Sibylla Merian, Herolt often lived in her mother’s shadow, but she had a vibrant style all her own. Her colorful compositions often combined several different flowers and, like her better-known parent, she displayed a talent for depicting insects. Some of her works are co-signed by her mother, suggesting collaborations between the two.
Camellia by Lise Cloquet (1788-1860)
French botanical painter Lise Cloquet’s works focused more on artistic attributes rather than scientific aspects. She learned to draw from her artist father and counted the great floral painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté as her main influence. Her work is characterized by meticulous attention to detail; note the fine veining on the petals of the camellia, pictured above.
Fleecy Milk-Cap by Anna Maria Hussey (1805-1853)
Though it was unusual for Victorian women to be involved in scientific pursuits, British mycologist Anna Maria Hussey defied convention with research and illustrations focusing on fungi. She balanced her duties as a cleric’s wife and mother to six children with her work, often traveling to what she referred to as “out-of-the-way wild places, far from carriage tracks” to find her subjects.
Prunus, Prunus serotina by Sarah Matilda Parry (1782-1852)
Her family’s Summer Hill estate in England provided Sarah Matilda Parry ample inspiration for her beautiful watercolor paintings focusing on orchard fruits. Though her father planted the cherry trees that yielded the examples illustrated above, he died before the trees bore fruit, prompting Sarah to add the wistful notation, “The produce of these three trees my dear Father never saw.”
Frontispiece by Dorothea Eliza Smith (1804-1864)
After the tragedy of losing her first husband and daughter in a shipwreck shadowed her life, Dorothea Eliza Smith left Scotland to join her second husband, Scottish physician Archibald Smith, in South America. She spent several years painting varieties of fruit found in the Peruvian countryside, carefully noting details for each subject, such as the scientific and common names, plant heights, and shapes of leaves. Though the works of many women artists were largely overlooked, Smith’s husband made sure her work was preserved and acknowledged.
Text Karen Callaway
Featured Image Photography Marcy Black Simpson
To read the full feature on Bunny Mellon’s Oak Spring Garden, see “The Heart of a Gardener” on page 73 in the May/June 2018 issue of Victoria. For more information on the Oak Spring Garden Foundation’s Women Artists Initiative, visit osgf.org/library.