The U.S. Department of Agriculture has placed online and extensive digital collection of late 19th and early 20th century watercolors of fruit varieties that were commissioned both as a botanical resource and as illustrations for the department’s publications.
“Pomology” the study of fruit breeding and production.
There are over 7,000 images of watercolors by two dozen artists, almost half of whom are women. Essentially botanical illustrations, the paintings are beautiful and sensitively rendered in delicate detail.
Many of the fruits are represented in various stages of decay, presumably to illustrate specifics in the articles they were to accompany, as well as providing visual documentation of the varieties themselves.
I found it easiest to browse by clicking on “Limit your search: Artist” in the left column, and then simply clicking on the artists’ names to bring up their work. They are listed in order of number of images in the database.
There is an article on Slate (by Rebecca Onion, no less) that focuses on the portrayal of less familiar apple varieties. More than 3,000 of the watercolors are of apples.
(Images above: Charles Steadman, William Henry Prestle [with detail], Bertha Heiges, M. Strange, Harriet L. Thompson, Ellen Isham Schutt, Deborah Griscom Passmore, L.C.C. Krieger [with detail])