In 1900, Adela Catherine Breton (b. 1849 – d. 1923), a fifty-year-old Victorian gentlewoman from Bath, began her journey around Mexico on an archaeological quest to make detailed watercolour records of the Mayan ruins.

Adela Breton’s travels in Mexico are unveiled through her diary and the series of letters written by and about her. They describe a way of life far removed from her comfortable upbringing: hunger, heat, fever and insect bites plagued her as she worked.

For the final 23 years of her life, Adela dedicated her time to recording the subtle nuances in colour found in the frescoes of Chichén Itzá and other notable sites. Camping among the Mayan ruins, she worked tirelessly and, according to her contemporaries, somewhat obstinately. She was an extraordinary woman who broke the stereotypes of a Victorian spinster and became a traveller, an explorer, an archaeologist and an artist whose paintings have endured where the ruins have not.

Adela died in Barbados on 13 June 1923, aged 73. She bequeathed her archive to the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Her paintings are the sole record of the vibrant colours that once adorned the temples and are still used today, most recently as a source of information for the Maya Skies project. History may have all but forgotten her but her legacy lives on.

Written by Kate Devlin (@drkatedevlin)

Edited and posted by Tori

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