The Botanical Art Archive

Collected Over 200 Years At Glasnevin and Kilmacurragh

The National Botanic Gardens houses an important and varied art collection.

There are over 3,000 individual pieces of art representing one of the largest collections of original drawings in Ireland. Some of the paintings were originally held, along with the Herbarium collection, in the Science and Art Museum (now the National Museum). These collection transferred to Glasnevin in 1970. Other works came to the gardens through bequests by the artists themselves or their families.

The collection represents over twenty artists, both Irish and foreign. Among the larger collections are Lydia Shackleton (1828-1914), Charlotte Wheeler Cuffe (1867-1967), and George Victor du Noyer (1817-1869). Also included in the art collection is the James McNab Painted Herbarium. James NcNab (1810-1879) was a Scottish horticulturist. He produced a collection of dried herbarium specimens accompanied by exact botanical illustrations which show the contrast between a dried specimen and the living plant. Such accuracy and completeness are important to the botanist in the identification of plant specimens. A series of pen and ink line drawings by Sophia Rosamund Praeger (1867-1954), sister of the well known botanist Robert Lloyd Praeger are also in the collection. Also included in the art collection are works by contemporary botanical artists, such as Susan Sex, Deborah Lambkin, and Wendy Walsh.

Browse highlights of the collection by navigating through the section menu to the left, or simply scroll down. Click on any image to see it larger.

Lydia Shackleton

Lydia Shackleton was born in Ballytore, Co. Kildare in 1828. She came from a Quaker family of thirteen, and in her early years devoted much of her time to teaching and taking care of the younger members of her family. Lydia trained in the Royal Dublin Society’s School of Art, a sister institution of the Botanic Gardens.

At 56, Lydia became the first resident artist at Glasnevin. The Director Frederick Moore (1879-1922) had a particular interest in tropical orchids, and devoted a lot of his time to the improvement of the collection. He asked Lydia to paint these orchids in the knowledge that they would provide a permanent record and be a useful aid for future botanist in the identification of this complex group of plants. She also painted Hellebores, peonies, carnivourous plants, and the South African bulbs Lachenalia for Frederick Moore. There is no official record of any payments made to Lydia for her paintings.

A series of native plant portraits painted by Lydia were originally held in the National Museum. These were done at the request of Professor Johnson who was Keeper of the Herbarium in the Museum. They were probably used as part of the instruction course in botany that Professor Johnson gave to the apprentice gardeners.

Lydia spent over twenty years of her life painting at Glasnevin and her work, including over a thousand orchids, is an impressive reflection of the horticultural and botanical achievements of the Botanic Gardens in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In her later years her eyesight was affected, and eventually Lydia was forced to stop painting.


Alice Jacob

Alice Jacob was a well-known artist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Her particular talent lay in the area of design, and she supplied designs for lace to may of the linen firms of the period.

In 1908, she was officially employed by Frederick Moore as a botanical illustrator in the National Botanic Gardens, taking over from Lydia Shackleton. She painted over a hundred orchids between 1908 and 1919.


Charlotte Wheeler Cuffe

Charlotte Wheeler Cuffe Was born in England in 1867. She was a granddaughter of the Reverend Sir Hercules Langrishe, third Baronet of Knocktopher, Co. Kilkenny. Although Charlotte was born in London, her Irish connections were strengthened when she married Sir Otway Wheeler Cuffe from Kilkenny. Sir Otway joined the Indian Public Works Department in 1889 and shortly after their marriage they moved to Burma where they remained for the next twenty-four years.

Charlotte’s main interests were gardening and painting. She often accompanied her husband on trips to inspect the engineering works. These trips took them to remote parts of Burma, where she began painting the orchids and other native plants in their natural habitat. In 1911, and again in 1912, Charlotte travelled to Mount Victoria with Winefred McNab where she painted the native flora. Among the plants she painted and collected was the white flowering Rhodendron cuffeanum and the yellow flowered R. burmanicum which was named after her. She sent living specimens of these and other plants to Glasnevin. R. cuffeanum is a rare plant not growing in any Irish garden. It has not been collected by any botanist since 1911. R. burmanicum is a hardy plant and grows outdoors in Ireland.

In 1917 she was asked by the head of the Forestry Department, Charles Rodgers, and the Burmese Secretary, William Keith to design and construct a Botanical garden at Maymyo. This she undertook with great joy and enthusiasm. In her correspondence with Frederick Moore, she describes her progress. By 1918, she had 150 acres to manage and develop into a botanic garden. During her years in India and Burma, Charlotte also painted several hundred watercolours. The Cuffes returned to Kilkenny in 1921, and four years later Charlotte loaned her paintings to the Botanic Gardens with the express wish that they would be left there permanently after her death. Charlotte died in 1967 in her hundredth year.


George Victor du Noyer

George Victor du Noyer Was born in Dublin in 1817 to parents of Huguenot descent, Louis Victor du Noyer and Margaret du Bedat. From an early age he was a pupil of the artist, George Petrie. He developed an interest in art and antiquities, and it was through George Petrie’s influence that he was engaged as a draughtsman in the Ordinance Survey in 1835, and subsequently with the Geological Survey becoming District Surveyor in 1867.

In 1824 while working with the Ordinance Survey, du Noyer became involved with a Government incentive to map Ireland. He collaborated with David Moore (later Curator at Glasnevin) on this survey. Moore was the Botanist employed by the Survey, who collected and discovered new species which du Noyer was employed to paint. He was associated in all with forty-eight sheets of maps of Ireland, and with seventeen memoirs. From 1844-45 he was a Tutor in Fine Art at the college of St Columbia. He produced a series of scenic drawings of the surrounding area, including pencil drawings of the area where the Battle of the Boyne took place.

In January 1858 he married Francis Adelaide du Bedat in Donnybrook. They had five children. In 1856 he became a member of the Royal Irish Academy where he exhibited regularly. In 1869, at 52 years of age, George Victor du Noyer died of scarlet fever. His daughter Fanny died the following day, and they are both buried in Antrim town. After his death, his widow offered his collection of drawings contained in twelve volumes arranged county by county to the Academy.

Katherine and Frederica Plunket

The Plunket sisters were born in Kilsaren, Co. Louth. Their father was the Right Reverend Thomas Plunket, Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Anchory. Their mother was a member of the Foster family, one of whom, John Foster, speaker of the Irish parliament, was instrumental in the founding of the Botanic Gardens. Katherine died in October 1932, in her 112th year. Little is known of Frederica Plunket.

Together the sisters compiled an album of over 1,200 flower paintings. The paintings were done during their many trips to around Ireland and Europe including France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. They are not signed but beneath each painting is the botanical name written by Katharine.

It was presented in 1903 by Frederica to Professor Johnson at the Royal College of Science. It was then transferred to the Museum of Science and Art (National Museum of Ireland). In 1970, it was part of the collections which were transferred to the National Botanic Gardens.


Glasnevin Orchids

During his years as Curator of the National Botanic Gardens Sir Frederick Moore built the Orchid collection at Glasnevin into a world leader. At the time of his death, the collection comprised more than a thousand species and over 600 hybrids. Not only did Frederick Moore purchase large numbers of plants from the firms of O’Brien, Bull, Low, Sanders, Stevens, and Veitch, but was also donated material by these same firms. Knowing Frederick Moore’s fondness for the small and unusual (plants often spurned by the collectors of flamboyance and gaudiness), many firms would send him miscellaneous collections of unsold material at the end of each season. A consequence of this method of acquiring material meant that many plants were unnamed, and when these were sent to Kew for identification by Robert Rolfe, some proved to be new to Science. Thus the Orchid house was the source of many new species described between the 1880s and 1920s.

Frederick Moore arranged for many of these orchids to be painted when they flowered. The Gardens still holds this collection of nearly 1300 orchid portraits painted by Lydia Shackleton and Alice Jacob. Those illustrations depicting new species described from the Botanic Gardens collections are shown below.