Matilda Smith (1854-1926)
The longest of yarns by the profoundest of botanists does not appeal so
much nor create such instant recognition as a good picture. So when the
prolific Walter Fitch withdrew his services as botanical illustrator to
Kew in 1877, the survival of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine depended
on Joseph Hooker recruiting and training another illustrator.
Hooker knew his second cousin Matilda Smith had artistic
talent and undertook to train her further. Smith learned
what in the words of her predecessor was the test of the
botanical illustrator’s patience: ‘the
analysis of a dried flower, from an herbarium specimen, perhaps very small,
worm-eaten and gluey, and having no apparent analogy to any known plant.’
Within a year, Smith’s first illustration appeared in the magazine.
After twenty years of steady output Smith was officially admitted to the
Herbarium staff making her the Civil Service’s first ever botanical
artist. During 45 years (1878-1923), working two days a week, Smith drew
over 2,300 plates for the magazine – and illustrated many other publications,
including reproducing missing drawings for rare but incomplete
volumes in the Kew library.
She was accepted as an Associate of the Linnean Society in
1921 (then one of only 25 at a time, and only the 2nd woman
ever). Two appreciative botanists named their discoveries Smithiantha and Smithiella in
to: Marianne North