Women, art and zoology : Celebrating International Women’s Day with some 20th century women artists, illustrators and scientists

by Ann Sylph on

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March we are again featuring a small selection of talented women artists and illustrators. This time a few living during the 20th century. Three of these women were also scientists publishing papers in ZSL’s scientific journal, the Proceedings of the Zoological Society, a journal which continues today as our Journal of Zoology.

As the saying goes a `picture is worth a thousand words’. The value of art in communicating science is increasingly being recognised and valued. Arts and sciences help people to reconnect with nature and to take action to protect it. ZSL’s collections of art mainly depict animals for scientific purposes, often newly described and discovered species.

By highlighting these works by women, I hope I am helping to improve awareness of women’s contributions and this may play a role in improving gender equality. ZSL is committed to advancing gender equality, diversity, inclusion and equal opportunities for all. I hope this blog will inspire others to engage with zoology, wildlife conservation and ZSL’s vision of a world where wildlife thrives.

Joan Beauchamp Procter (1897-1931) was the subject of a blog by my colleague Sarah Broadhurst, ZSL’s Archivist and Records Manager. Sarah focussed on Joan Procter’s role at ZSL as Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians but she was also a talented artist as you can see in this painting from our collections.

Colour painting of a gecko in a desert landscape
Palmato gecko rangei Andersson by Joan Procter. 1928

Lilian Stanley Flower (1906-1992), known as ‘Lilla’ had many family connections to ZSL and was probably a friend of Joan Procter. Lilla Flower was born in Giza, Egypt on 3 September 1906. She was the fourth and youngest child of Major Stanley Smyth Flower (1871-1946), OBE, FLS, FZS and his first wife Sybilla Maria Peckham Wallace (1876-1938). S.S. Flower was Director of the Zoological Gardens in Giza, Egypt. His father (and Lilla's grandfather) was Sir William Henry Flower (1831-1899), the first Director of the British Museum (Natural History) in South Kensington (1884-1898) and President of ZSL 1879-1899. Lilla was sent to England for her education. She studied fine art at the Royal Academy Schools. She actively painted in watercolours and oils all her life and also taught in these media. These paintings were received as part of a bequest from Dave Ball, a former member of ZSL's staff.

9 colour paintings framed together of  Pygmy Desert Iguana; South American Poison Frogs ; Bell's Lizard ; Fire-bellied Toad; Giant Toad ; Californian Newt ; Painted Tree-Snake ; Mud Terrapin ; Pygmy Chameleon.
Paintings of nine amphibians and reptiles by 'Lilla' Flower, c. 1930

Alice or Elsie Sexton (1868-1959) was a marine artist based at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth from 1900. She published her first paper in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society in 1908 where she worked meticulously on identifying 35 species of amphipod, including examples of type specimens. She decided to study the life history of a species of shrimp that could be kept in a laboratory, which led on to her work on life cycles and genetics. She published over 30 research papers between 1908 and 1951 (Information from Haines, Catharine M.C. with Stevens, Helen M. (2001). International women in science : a biographical dictionary to 1950. Santa Barbara : ABC Clio.) This particular illustration accompanied her paper in the 1908 volume of the Proceedings of the Zoological Society.

Black and white illustration of the anatomy of an amphipod crustacean (shrimp)
Illustration of Triscizoetoma sp. to accompany Elsie Sexton's first paper in Proceedings of the Zoological Society

Marie Victoria Lebour (1876-1971)

Worked at the Marine Biological Association from 1915 mainly studying the planktonic larvae of decapods, and much of her work was published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society. She studied zoology at Armstrong College (now the University of Newcastle) where she carried out research for her MSc, and then moved to the University of Leeds in 1907 where she was awarded a DSc in 1917. Her artistic talent is shown in her illustrations to accompany her scientific papers (Information from Haines, Catharine M.C. with Stevens, Helen M. (2001). International women in science : a biographical dictionary to 1950. Santa Barbara : ABC Clio.)

Colour illustrations of larval stages of some crustaceans
Plate 1 in Lebour, M.V. (1931). The Larvae of the Plymouth Caridea.- I. The Larvae of the Crangonidae. II. The Larvae of the Hippolytidae. PZS, vol. 101, iss. 1



L.A. Daff (fl. 1930) Little is known about New Zealand illustrator, L.A. Daff, but she prepared many illustrations for publication in New Zealand birds by W.R.B. Oliver (1930). She was responsible for the front covers of the magazine Forest and bird (a New Zealand nature journal) from 1933-1937. Three issues of Avicultural Magazine were illustrated with colour plates of Australasian birds - Kea, Norfolk Island Parakeet and Ruffed (or Solitary) Lory - by Miss Daff in 1934 and 1937. (Information from Christine E. Jackson Dictionary of bird artists of the world, London : Antique Collectors' Club, 1999)

Painting of two green Norfolk Island Parakeets on a branch
Norfolk Island Parakeet by L.A. Daff. c1934

These paintings and others by these women will be displayed in ZSL Library throughout March.

To find out about some earlier women contributing to art and zoology please do look at this previous blog   

To find out more about women’s contribution to science in ZSL publications link to these open access virtual issues of Journal of Zoology:-

Women in Zoology Virtual issue  

Women and the Blue Planet


Much of the information in this blog is taken from our online catalogue with catalogue entries about artworks by Ann Datta. You can explore our artworks further using the catalogue, click on ‘Search Artworks’ on the sidebar to limit your searches to artworks only.


 If you are visiting ZSL London do look out for sculptures by women artists including Wendy Taylor’s Dung beetles and Globe sundial as well as works by Linda Hamilton, Carol Orwin and Teresa Martin in Tiger Territory.

In ZSL Library we exhibit a sculpture by Nicola Toms. Larger paintings by two women are permanently displayed in ZSL Library – works by Lilian Cheviot and Helen Cowcher.

A bronze sculpture of a striding bull African elephant in ZSL Library
Elephant bull by Nicola Toms in ZSL Library

ZSL Prince Philip Zoological Library & Archives is a wonderful and unique information resource about animals and their conservation – we aim to inspire, inform, and empower people to stop wild animals going extinct. Information is vitally important in conservation.

Our collections can be explored and discovered in a variety of ways –

Thanks to Ann Datta for much of the information in this blog and to James Godwin for photography.



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