Illustrating the Garden of England
Brent Elliott acclaims a talented artist who received the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour in 1955
Lilian Snelling (1879-1972) was probably the most important British botanical artist of the first half of the 20th century. Born in St Mary Cray near Orpington, Kent, she spent most of her life there; an album of early drawings, now in the Lindley Library, shows her depictions of the wild flowers she found in the Kentish country lanes.
Her first important patron was Henry John Elwes, a plant hunter, author of a monograph on lilies and co-author of The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland, who commissioned Snelling to draw plants from his garden. These drawings show the influence of Henry George Moon, whose imprecise style had great currency in England in the late 19th century. The drawing of Pelargonium tricolor (now P. ‘Splendide’) shown here (above left) is an example of her work for Elwes.
In 1916 Snelling went to work at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and in 1922 was hired by the RHS as the principal artist for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. Her drawing of Paulownia lilacina (now P. tomentosa ‘Lilacina’) (above right) was published in the Botanical Magazine in 1938, appearing as the double plate 8926-7, and is a good example of her later, harder-edged work. Most of the drawings she made for that magazine are now at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, but her drawings for volume 147 - intended to fill the gap for 1921, when no volume appeared because of negotiations over the future of the Botanical Magazine - are in the Lindley Library; they were bequeathed by Reginald Cory, who financed the production of that volume independently.
Brent Elliott is RHS Librarian and Archivist
The RHS Lindley Library holds more than 50,000 books, 1,500 periodicals, 25,000 botanical drawings, and the UK's largest collection of horticultural trade catalogues.
The works mentioned are held in the rare books room of the
RHS Lindley Library and may be consulted at the London branch
at 80 Vincent Square, London, and is open to the public Monday
- Friday, 9.30am - 5.30pm.
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