Common Fritillary
Common Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) by E.F. Crowley.
Common primrose
Common primrose (Primula vulgaris) by E.F. Crowley.

Botany was a popular and fashionable activity in 18th and 19th century Britain. It was a safe recreation for women of leisure in the middle classes and was encouraged as an exercise that taught moral and religious lessons and prevented idleness.

In April 1927, two months after King George V officially opened the National Museum of Wales, Miss Gwendolen Crowley of Eastbourne wrote to the new museum's Keeper of Botany offering a collection of 200 botanical watercolour drawings.

Included with Miss Crowley's drawings were similar paintings by her mother, Mrs Curtis Crowley, her sister, Marion and an aunt, Mrs E. F. Crowley, bringing the total number of watercolours donated to 367.

Some years before, Gwendolen and Marion had started a Botanical Painting Club to illustrate as many wild flowers as possible and this collection was the result of that interest.

An inscription on the back of one of Marion's paintings of a Grape Hyacinth (Muscari comosum) states,

"Known also as Tassel-Hyacinth. See Curtis's Botanical Magazine."

This reference alludes to William Curtis (1746-1799), who taught at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. Curtis wrote one of the earliest illustrated floras in England, Flora Londinensis (1775-87), which includes all the wild flowers growing within 10 miles of London.

Part of the work undertaken by the Museum is to maintain and conserve these delicate illustrations. The drawings have all been cleaned with vinyl erasers, stored in polyester envelopes to prevent abrasion and acid migration, before being rehoused in archival boxes designed specially for delicate material. The paintings are all original watercolours, measuring approximately 25cm by 18cm.

Leave a comment