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Tangled up in Blue: A New Addition to Our Anna Atkins Collection

Chylocladia Clavellosa by Anna Atkins
10"x8" ($24) | 14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 30"x24" ($800) 

Time spent on the beach is about as luxurious a sensorial experience as we can come up with. If you ask us, the key components of an oceanic chill fest are as follows: the feel of sea-heavy sand under bare feet, the smell of brine and sulfur, and the sight of seaweed. No trip to the shore is complete without at least one encounter with a glorious, glistening gob of algae.

Anna Atkins' fondness for marine macroalgae goes beyond the average beachgoer’s appreciation. The 19th Century English botanist and photographer grew up under the guidance of her scientist father, which fueled her passion for the biology of plant life. While undoubtedly in possession of a keen scientific mind, Atkins was also a terrifically talented artist. It was the intersection of these two strengths that equipped her spectacularly well for botanical study. Using her extensive collection of dried plants, Atkins produced enough cyanotype photograms to self-publish Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions—widely considered the first-ever book illustrated with photographs.

Atkins renowned cyanotypes get their telltale blue hue from a chemical reaction that results in an insoluble dye called Prussian Blue, the first modern synthetic pigment. In reality, this striking marine plant is a rosy pinkish-red. Known today as Lomentaria clavellosa, the Chylocladia Clavellosa is commonly referred to as “feathery tube weed”—a very specific name, but it certainly gets the point across. The soft, flattened fronds are woven together from numerous spindly branchlets, making for a diaphanous, handsome plant (and an attractive photogram subject).

Chylocladia Clavellosa would not have been difficult for Atkins to find. The English coasts abound with algae, and this particular variety is plentiful around Britain and Ireland, from the Shetlands to the Channel Islands. It prefers to hang out on rocks and stones in tide pools, making it an easy specimen to spot. It’s also an easy form to fall for, the most delicate and gauzy of the three seaweeds in our collection of Atkins images. In a way, the cyan hue ups the nautical quotient, re-imagining the ruddy marine weed as the perfect print to take your mind to maritime—whether you’re coastal, countryside, or stuck in the city.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200