H. Isabel Adams

A forgotten botanical artist

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

I recently had the good fortune to come across a copy of the book "British Wild Flowers in relation to Insects" by the Right Hon. Lord Avebury. I was intrigued by the bookplate inside the front cover, which is illustrated here:

Nettle Family by Mrs H. Isabel Adams -  for Wild Flowers of the British Isles.

The book had evidently belonged to H. Isabel Adams, but who was she?


Mrs Harriet Isabel Adams FLS (1863-1952) illustrated and wrote “Wild Flowers of the British Isles”, which was published in two volumes by Heinemann in 1907 (volume 1) and 1910 (volume 2). The composite pen and ink and watercolour illustrations for this book (see examples below) are most attractive. She trained at Birmingham School of Art and became a noted 'Arts and Crafts' Illustrator. She was elected as a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 1906. She was also a member of the The Botanical Society and Exchange Club of the British Isles (the BSBI), whose archive papers for 1929 indicate she lived at 14 Vernon Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham and was then painting British aquatic plants. She sought help from others in gathering specimens. Beyond this it appears that remarkably little is known about her. 


Her book was reviewed in the Spectator:  “Her book does not compete, of course, with Bentham or Hooker's hand- books; but it is sufficiently scientific to enable serious botanists to recommend it to beginners. There are some eighty full-page plates in this quarto volume. We have seen few flower drawings (always excepting Curtis's Flora Londinensis) that have given us so much pleasure to look at. From one to half-a-dozen plants are figured on a page ; but Miss Adams manages to keep the character of each species distinct, and the grouping is often full of skill and grace. We have nothing but praise for the colouring, especially the various greens. The yellow of the rock-rose is beautiful, and the more subdued mauves and pinks are excellent. It is all slightly conventional, but gives a truer effect than many an attempt at realism.”


- Taken from the Spectator Archive. 

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Convolvulus Family by Mrs H. Isabel Adams -  for Wild Flowers of the British Isles.

Front cover: “Wild Flowers of the British Isles”. 1907.