Marianne North, artist and botanist


Marianne North gallery

As I wrote earlier, on 10 November I was in Kew Gardens in London.

There are two art galleries closely together in Kew Gardens. Both are named after women.

The newest one is the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. Built in 2008, it has exhibitions of botanical art. Including, when I visited, about South African plants, and about the nineteenth century Kew Gardens director and friend of Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker. The gallery is named after a sponsor.

The older gallery, close to it, the Marianne North Gallery, is not named after a sponsor, but after the artist, Marianne North (1830-1890) who made the works in it. The Marianne North Gallery is the only gallery in Britain in which all art was made by one female artist.

In some respects, Marianna North reminds one of Maria Sybille Merian of two centuries earlier. Both traveled far to paint plants. Like Ms Merian, Ms North contributed not just to art, but also to science: a new plant genus and new plant species discovered by her were named after her.

There are differences as well between Marianne North and Maria Sybille Merian. While Merian visited just one tropical country, Suriname, North went to many countries. Ms Merian was also more interested in insects and other animals linked to the plants than Ms North.

Marian North greatly admired Charles Darwin. Darwin advised her to visit Australia before opening her gallery at Kew Gardens, as her view of the flora of the world would be incomplete without visiting that continent. While the Dutch Beagle TV series gives the impression that Darwin disliked Australia, that impression is incomplete.

Marianne North’s paintings are displayed in the gallery like when it started in 1882: closely together, covering most of the walls from top to bottom. That is a typically nineteenth century way of displaying art. Later, museums and galleries often increased distances between art works, as in the old way of display individual paintings often were not visible enough.

In the Marianne North Gallery, the original way of displaying the paintings on the one hand helps to give a strong impression of Ms North’s work as a whole. On the other hand, it does some injustice to some individual paintings, especially those hanging at the top or bottom ends of the display.

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2 thoughts on “Marianne North, artist and botanist

  1. Pingback: Darwin’s lost fossil plants rediscovered | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Alida Withoos, Dutch 17th century botanical artist | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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