Women Did the Work, Men Took the Credit

Where have I heard that before? Men have been benefiting from women’s talents and efforts for centuries. One example that has come to light in the last 20 to 30 years is the lack of recognition for the women floral painters and artists of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Exotic Orchid by Mrs. Augusta Withers
Exotic Orchid by Mrs. Augusta Withers

Because upper class women in Western Europe, the colonies and later the US, were expected to stay at home but had ample household help, they needed something  to do with their time. Many were taught to draw and paint, and frequently their subjects were drawn from the botanical world. The work of these women is a testament to the talents and skills, but until very recently none of their work has ever been shown in a large public exhibit, and it was ignored  or dismissed in their time.

Daisy or Bellis  Perennis   by Mrs. Rebecca Hey (?)
Daisy or Bellis Perennis by Mrs. Rebecca Hey (?)

I was recently given a book, Women of Flowers by Jack Kramer (Published in 1996) that is one of the first public attempts to right that wrong. Kramer tells the stories of many remarkable women who produced beautiful paintings and drawings but were unrecognized in their day. Often the female artists signed their name, “Anonymous,” or left off any signature. Worse still, men frequently took credit for the prints or paintings done by women.

Lophespermum scandens by Mrs. E. Bury (?)
Lophespermum scandens by Mrs. E. Bury (?)

As I was looking for some examples of work by Victorian women I Googled, “Victorian women floral painters,” and was shocked when Van Gogh’s Sunflowers was included in one group. I love that painting, but it surely proves the point. I finally gave up on trying to find examples on the internet so took some shots from the book, Women of Flowers by Jack Kramer. I’m not set up to photograph from books so the reproductions are poor, but it allows you to get an idea of the quality of the work.