by Deborah Swift
The story of The Lady’s Slipper is a story about a rare wild flower, but it is also the story of the 17th century artist who wished to capture its unique beauty in paint.
When researching the heroine of my novel I looked to female artists of the seventeenth century, especially those who painted flowers and the natural world. Unsurprisingly not many are documented, but here I give you just a taste of three extraordinary women who really lived, and one imaginary artist who only lives between the pages of my novel. Can you spot the imaginary artist amongst the real ones?
Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717)
Maria seemed to be an infant prodigy and Maria’s step-father, who was also a painter, doted on her, predicting that she would increase the fame of the Merian family name; so, apparently, did her half-brothers Matthäus and Caspar, twenty years her senior. She studied flowers, and more importantly - insects, keeping her own live specimens, and often travelling abroad in search of more specimens to draw. In her time, it was very unusual that someone would be genuinely interested in insects, which had a bad reputation and were colloquially called "beasts of the Devil." She described the life cycles of 186 insect species, amassing evidence that contradicted the contemporary notion that insects were "born of mud" by some sort of spontaneous generation.
Just one of Merian’s superb paintings
of pomegranates, insects and butterflies
Alice Ibbetson (1635 - 1701)
Mary Beale (1633 – 1699)
Mary Beale was the first fully professional woman artist in
Her husband Charles even left his job as a clerk to help Mary prepare her
canvases and mix her paints. He experimented with pigments and became an expert
in the field. She quickly made enough from the business to support her family,
including her sons Bartholomew and Charles (later an admired society
miniaturist). While she painted, Charles would write up detailed notebooks in
which he customarily referred to his wife as 'Dearest Heart' and described the
sittings, the sitters and his own technical discoveries. The majority of his
notes have been lost, but those for the years 1677 and 1681 survive in the
archives of the Bodleian Library at Oxford
and the National Portrait Gallery. His notebook of 1677 details a busy year: 83
commissions, bringing in earnings of £429. During the 1660s, when the plague
Beale moved her home and workplace out of the city to the safety of Allbrook
|Nell Gwyl (Nell Gwyn) by Mary Beale. I can definitely see|
from this painting why she would attract the notice of the King!
Louise Moillon (1610–1696) was one of seven children. Her father was the landscape and portrait painter Nicolas Moillon, but he died when she was an infant, and her mother when she was only twenty. Her mother’s inventory of possessions included a series of paintings on wooden panels by her daughter Louise, so it would appear that Louise showed talent from an early age. The high esteem in which her work was held is demonstrated by the fact that in 1639 Charles I of England had five still life pieces by the artist, framed in pear wood and ebony. Mouillon’s work was admired for its lifelike quality but also for its restrained stillness.
|Bowl of Plums by Louise Moillon|