This sumptuously earthy illustration of Boletus luridus—now called Suillellus luridus— comes from Illustrations of British Mycology, published in 1855. Though scientists had published studies of fungi for many years, this two-volume set was notable for being fully written and illustrated by a woman.
Anna Marie Hussey, née Reed, developed a keen interest in art and botany as a child. That interest was supported in her marriage to Reverend Thomas John Hussey, a well-connected astronomer who came from a scientifically-minded family. It was unusual for Victorian women to engage in scientific study. Those who did were typically upper class and tended to paint flora, which was thought to be elegant and becoming. Hussey pushed back against those gendered notions, focusing on fungi and lichen despite what was considered socially appropriate. Whereas her fellow female illustrators were sent specimens to paint, Hussey ventured out on her own to find her subjects, traveling to terrain she described as “out-of-the-way wild places, far from carriage tracks, and often where large herds of cattle are pastured.” In a letter to her friend and leading mycologist of her time, Reverend M.J. Berkeley, Hussey astutely summed up her struggle with gender and propriety: “I am always under the uncomfortable impression that the thing that I am doing is not the right thing to be doing.” Berkeley later named a fungal genus Husseia after “my friend, Mrs. Hussey, whose talents well deserve such a distinction”.
Hussey blazed her own trail in publishing Illustrations of British Mycology, containing 90 detailed, hand-colored lithographic plates made by herself or her sister, with descriptions, personal observations, and anecdotes. Sadly, Hussey died in 1853. A second, smaller volume of 50 plates was published posthumously in 1855. The two volumes, especially the illustrations, were highly praised for both accuracy and elegance.
Why We Love It
Well hey there mushroom hunter—we found you a treasure trove. This Victorian-era scientific illustration overfloweth with fleshy fungal fecundity (and has a subtly feminist backstory to boot). And can we just say it feels like something Julia Child would have hanging in her kitchen while she swirls some butter in a sauté pan? Boletus luridus is, in a word, enchanting ... Read more on the blog!
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