In 1886, the United States Department of Agriculture undertook a particularly ambitious project. With the help of a handful of watercolor artists, the 24-year-old organization sought to document thousands of newly-discovered fruits and nuts, culminating in a one-of-a-kind botanical resource.
Known as the Pomological Watercolors, this compilation of artwork features fruit and nut varieties from 29 countries and 51 U.S. states and territories. Each specimen is rendered in astounding detail; textured skins, meticulously studied cross-sections, and even realistic imperfections are some of the elements that make these works particularly eye-catching.
The whimsical watercolors were completed by 21 artists (including 9 women) within a span of 56 years. They total 7,497 works—a feat that is particularly impressive for a non-arts organization. While these watercolor paintings make up the majority of the series, it also includes 87 line drawings and 79 wax models. Together, these pieces have helped immortalize the once-blossoming industry.
“Showing the natural size, shape, and color of both exterior and interior of the fruit, with the leaves and twigs characteristic of each,” Henry E. Van Deman (the chief of the Division of Pomology, or the science of fruit breeding and production) said in 1887, “[the paintings] are invaluable for comparison and reference, and a portion for publication.”
Recently, the USDA has decided to digitize these works. You can browse through—and even download—the high-resolution images in the Pomological Watercolor database.
Explore a delectable selection of fruit paintings from the USDA’s Pomological Watercolors Collection.
h/t: [Open Culture]