Prior to the 20th century — and many would say prior to the late 20th century — science as a field in the West was difficult to pursue without the benefits of class and gender privilege. Women — regardless of their desires or acumen — were pushed to "more delicate pursuits" and the time-consuming responsibilities of family. One of the very few places where modern science and Victorian sensibility could combine was in botany, the growing of plants and especially flowers. For a select number of women who combined talent, drive, and no small amount of luck or patronage, botanical illustration could be a means to both support themselves and to contribute meaningfully to the knowledge of plant life. However, almost none of them could expect to have any credit or scientific recognition beyond a simple name engraved below their illustrations — if even that. Indeed, we know next to nothing about many of these female illustrators, even when their drawings are contained in works that have had lasting fame and impact.
Unturned Leaves: Early Women in Botanical Illustration presents the work of female artists who provided valuable — and beautiful — scientific illustrations of plants before the times when women could more readily gain recognition for their contributions. The artists featured here display an ability to capture the natural wonder of the plants while remaining true to accurate depictions of their subjects, but as a whole did not receive recognition for their work during their lifetimes.