Mushrooms enlightens the unmistakable style and technique of Eleanor Vere Boyle’s, as one of the best Victorian illustrators. Rodney K. Engen described her as the “only competent woman illustrator, draughtsman to emerge before 1860” (see his Dictionary of Victorian wood engravers, Cambridge, 1985, p. 137). Indeed, due to the Victorian ideologies and values, the female artist was not considered as good as male painters. Specifically, flower-painting became a disputed genre in the middle of the nineteenth century related to the emergence of a new group of women artists and the re-evaluation of the relationship between genders in Victorian customs and art. If painting was regarded as an inappro-priate activity for ladies, book illustration was, more or less, tolerable. Eleanor Vere Boyle then applied her skill as a watercolorist to illustrate tale’s book.
Original drawings by Eleonor Vere Boyle are all of small size. In her recorded production, sheets as large as the present one are exceedingly rare. It might be due to her social position. Married to a Queen Vic-toria’s chaplain, she rarely exhibited or sold her artwork — actions that would have been judged as déclassé in the standards of her time and place. She did not sign much and most of the time only with initials that allowed her some anonymity. She exhibited only once some of her works, in 1902, at the Leighton House, London.
Familiar with many of the Pre-Raphaelites, Dante Gabriel Rossetti called her “great in design” (see Julia Thomas, Pictorial Victorians, Athens, Ohio University Press, 2004, p. 68); and Millais planned to include her in a sketching club in 1854. As a follower of John Ruskin, the focus on the garden and the natural vegetation wass one of her main concerns. The artist asserted that “Nature is creation’s picture-book”, and her illustrations demonstrate a deeply attention to plants and flower details, that Ruskin and the pre-Raphaelites espoused. At the back of the present sheet, we can read “Lycoperdon caelatum, Bull” and “Bovista plumbea, Pero”, the names of the two illustrated mushrooms, belonging to the family of puffballs. She wrote books on gardening, like her Days and Hours in a Garden (1884), A Garden of Pleas-ure (1895), and Seven Gardens and a Palace (1900).
By lack of available Boyle’s writings or documentation about her, we have not been able yet to link the present sheet to a recorded illustration. Historically, it has been given to Boyle by the very wise and connoisseur Lucien Goldschmidt, collector and dealer in NY, who bought it likely in the 70s or 80s for his private collection. He could have get this information from the seller at the time. Nevertheless, the authenticity has been confirmed by Rupert Maas, London.