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Emily Harris

Botanical artist (1836/37-1925)

Harris Emily1Flower painting was a popular and desirable accomplishment for young ladies of the 19th century, but for Emily Harris of Nelson it was also an economic necessity. Harris ran a private school with her often-sick sister and supplemented that income with artwork. For the 1886 Colonial Exhibition in London her pieces included painted fans and table tops – decorative women’s work not seen as art, let alone science.1 But Harris, who could not afford to attend the exhibition and often made little profit on shipping paintings to such events, may have focused on these for the higher sales prices they brought.

In 1890, Harris published three books which also sold as a combined volume Flowers, Ferns and Berries of New Zealand. But she couldn’t afford to print in colour and sales were disappointing.2 Harris went on to complete an outstanding collection of botanical illustrations of New Zealand alpine plants (Mount Cook Lily at left) but these were never published.

Feature image: Emily Harris. Source: New Plymouth digital archive.

Second image: Mount Cook lily - Ranunculus Lyallii. Source: National Library of New Zealand.


1. Catherine Field-Dodgson, ‘In Full Bloom: Botanical Art and Flower Painting by Women in 1880s New Zealand’, 2003, http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/handle/10063/4681.

2. Mary R. S. Creese and Thomas M. Creese, Ladies in the Laboratory III: South African, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian Women in Science: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Scarecrow Press, 2010), p. 84.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary