Botanical Illustrations

Collection Overview

The original works of art in the collections overseen by the Botany Libraries date from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s and include works by Harvard botanists, professional artists, “amateur” women who studied plants, and others.

Scientifically accurate representations of plants are critical to the field of botany, particularly when describing new species and distinguishing between similar species. Scientists and artists use living plants and specimens to create lifelike art that records the fine details of plants.

Botanical art often accompanies published text, conveying additional information to the reader. These may take the form of pencil or pen and ink drawings, watercolor or oil paintings, and other formats.

The archival collections of the Botany Libraries are rich in original artwork that represents the scientific work of Harvard botanists, including illustrations by Jacob Bigelow and watercolors by Charles E. Faxon.

Panax quniquefolium (Ginseng) original illustration: American Medical Botany platesJacob Bigelow botanical illustrations

The collections also include:

  • China trade export paintings, some executed on pith paper, and hundreds on English watermarked paper
  • Illustrations and a list of South African plants sent by Clemenz H. Wehdemann
  • Art created by “amateur” women botanists who illustrated the plants and fungi that they studied
  • Drawings, sketches, and proof plates in addition to final works

Funding for conservation and digitization was generously provided by Harvard University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.