Marianne North Gallery - a botanical gem restored for Kew's 250th anniversary
Press release, 22 September 2009
The restored Marianne North Gallery re-opens Sunday 11 October 2009 with a special day-long community celebration, filled with dance, food, and guided tours – an autumnal highlight in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s 250th anniversary year. A hidden gem in Kew Gardens’ 300 acre site, the Gallery and its paintings are being renovated and conserved, safeguarding their rich heritage for the future.
Brimming with 833 vibrant paintings, this purpose-built Gallery, designed by renowned architectural historian, James Ferguson, is the only gallery in the UK where all the work on display was produced by one female artist. An intrepid Victorian botanical artist, Marianne North travelled around the world to 17 countries, where in search of rare, exotic and beautiful plants, she documented over 900 plant species in her unique style.
Donating her life’s work to Kew Gardens in 1882, today her paintings still hang like a vast patchwork quilt, frame to frame, unchanged from the original hanging scheme. The Marianne North Gallery displays botanical and landscape paintings that are not only beautiful and part of Kew’s rich history and heritage, but also important to plant science and conservation. Her legacy of artworks provides a unique snapshot of the world’s flora and fauna over 100 years ago, documenting species and areas of the natural world now threatened.
Stephen Hopper, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says, “The Marianne North Gallery is one of the unique treasures at Kew and I am delighted that this stunning building and its rich collection are being renovated, refreshed and conserved as a highlight in our 250th anniversary year. With the two-year restoration project well underway, the legacy of this remarkable woman is being preserved as she would have remembered it, for future generations to enjoy.”
In June 2008, RBG Kew was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £1,867,000, towards the total cost of £3.7 million; kickstarting the two year conservation project which began in July 2008.
Sue Bowers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said: "This tremendous body of work reflects both the tenacity and the talents of this amazing woman who trekked across the globe in order to find her subjects, creating a unique botanical record from the Victorian era. Now, displayed in the beauty of their original setting, they present a scientific, artistic and historical marvel that provides an extra dimension to a visit to Kew."
RBG Kew is inviting people to ‘Adopt a Painting’, helping to safeguard the future of the collection. For more information see www.kew.org/mng
Restoring the artworks, a two year project
A team of four expert paper conservators and a conservation technician, headed up by Senior Conservator Jonathan Farley, is conserving all 833 oil paintings on paper in the state-of-the-art Marianne North Conservation Studio, based in RBG Kew’s Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives. The artworks have been grouped into treatment requirements, and the team is busy, conserving approximately 10 paintings every week. Treatments range from removing the acidic backing board which Marianne North stuck on to every oil painting to give them more rigidity, to working with a microscope to gather, re-position and stick down tiny flakes of paint, which have come loose due to distortion of the paper supports caused by fluctuating humidity levels. For more information on the conservation of the artworks please contact the press office.
Until the restoration project finishes in July 2010, work continues behind the scenes restoring the collection in the state of the art conservation studio. When the renovated Gallery re-opens to the public on 11 October 2009, all of the framed artworks will be high quality facsimiles. These will be replaced with the conserved paintings throughout 2010, allowing the public to see the conservation process unfold.
Uncovering hidden secrets…
Since the project began, the team of conservators has been thrilled and excited about what they may uncover when removing the acidic backing board, and doing forensic work on the artworks. Through each new discovery, the team are gaining insights into the ways in which Marianne North worked.
- Various inscriptions were found on the backs of the boards and paintings, some giving personal anecdotes on the scenes depicted and others noting the botanical names of the plants featured. These colourful descriptions have been preserved, and documented, and will go on display in the Gallery.
- Beneath the view of ‘Chilean Palms in the Valley of Salto’ the team discovered a completely unknown sketch of the landscape which is inscribed with annotations pointing the different colours and shades of the landscape. Words such as ‘bluish’ and ‘light grey’ can be clearly read, suggesting that Marianne North was planning on painting the image away from the actual scene.
- Finally paper conservator, Rachael Smith, on her very first day working on the project, found the most exciting discovery so far - a hidden painting, unseen for over 120 years since Marianne North covered it with its backing board. It took Rachel 16 painstaking hours to uncover half of the image – a pace much slower than normal as the painting was never varnished, leaving the paint layers very fragile.
Renovating the building…
The design of this striking Victorian Grade II listed Gallery has stood the test of time, but with no insulation and fluctuating humidity levels, penetrating damp conditions have persisted. Through this project, the Gallery has undergone a dramatic renovation, using modern technology to help preserve the building – bringing it back to its former glory.
Many of the original features have been recreated from the slate and lead roof to the historic tiled floor, returning the Gallery to its original design. Coupled with this, the Gallery has been fitted with a new airconditioning and heating system, providing a monitored, environmentally controlled space for the collection to hang in. A state-of-the-art lighting system has been installed, illuminating the pictures more effectively. This new lighting system incorporates both modern optic fibre lighting technology and a re-creation of the earliest lighting system known in the Gallery. Access facilities have been improved with a new entrance to the rear as well as a link corridor which connects the Marianne North Gallery to The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.
Re-opening the Gallery…
The re-opened Gallery will include new innovative and engaging installations, allowing visitors to delve deeper and learn about the life, work and legacy of Marianne North, and the conservation and scientific work RBG Kew undertakes relating to the plants featured.
Two touch-screen monitors will be in place at the centre of the Gallery, allowing visitors to investigate over 50 of the paintings in further detail by zooming in, and reading extracts from Marianne North’s memoirs.
Marianne North’s historic artist’s studio, has been opened up and transformed into a new exhibition space, where visitors can travel in time, and discover how the landscapes in four of Marianne North’s paintings - Jamaica, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Tasmania - have now dramatically changed today by viewing a set of ‘then and now’ photos. They can discover the role of botanical art in documenting plants in their natural setting and its role as a scientific tool, recording the intricate details, colours and dimensions of plants. Find out about some of Marianne North’s new plant discoveries, which now carry her name, such as the Northia hornei, commonly known as the Capucin tree, which she stumbled upon in the Seychelles in 1883.
A day to celebrate the re-opened treasure…
A community celebration will mark the re-opening of the Marianne North Gallery to the public on 11 October 2009. Drawing inspiration from the countries which Marianne North visited, RBG Kew has been working with local community groups from all over London to build local partnerships, and educate and inspire them about the work of Marianne North, and more widely about the importance of plants.
Both the Gardens surrounding the Gallery and the majestic Temperate House will be transformed with colour, music and art to celebrate the life of this remarkable woman.
Highlights include the following:
- Learn more about the conservation of the artworks by taking part in the conservators’ interactive talks. Listen to them talking about their work, and discover the tools they use, the problems they have faced and the secrets they have uncovered (11.00 – 11.45am and 2.30-3.15pm, The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art).
- Be amazed by the moves, sounds and colours of the Puspalata Dance Academy who will be performing a uniquely devised set of traditional Indian dances, inspired by Marianne North’s travels in South-Asia. (11.30 – 12.30, Marianne North Gallery and 2.30-3.30pm, Temperate House).
- Join the World Tea Party (12.00 - 3.30pm, Temperate House) and discover the history of the tea plant across the world, its diversity and uses, while sampling one of the many teas Marianne North may have tasted on her travels.
- Get creative and drop into the two yurts located in front of the Gallery (12.00 – 3.30pm). Imagine what it would be like if Marianne North’s paintings came to life, by taking part in an animation workshop by Kate Canning and transform a piece of nature into art decorating leaves, bark wood and other natural materials with intense colours, like those which Marianne used.
- For further information please contact Bryony Phillips, Tarryn Barrowman or Bronwyn Friedlander in the RBG Kew Press Office on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)20 8332 5607.
- Images are available at http://www.kew.org/press/images/marianne_north.html. Please contact the RBG Kew Press Office for username and password to download in high resolution format.
- More details on current exhibitions in The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art and elsewhere in the Gardens
Notes to Editors
Opening Times: Check the Gallery and Garden opening times online at http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/visit-information/opening-times/index.htm
Admission: Admission to Kew Gardens includes free entry to all Glasshouses, Galleries and the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway. Adults £13, Concessions £11, FREE for children under 17 (accompanied by an adult)
Adopt a Painting
The Adopt a Painting scheme offers an opportunity, for as little as £500, to play a part in safeguarding the future of the paintings in the Marianne North collection. Paintings from the collection can be individually selected according to preference, from 17 countries and 900 species. For more information email email@example.com or call Helen Lawrence on 020 8332 3249
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, HLF invests in every part of the UK’s diverse heritage. HLF has supported more than 26,000 projects, allocating over £4billion across the UK. Over £840 million has been granted in London alone, with nearly £24million going to 72 projects in Richmond upon Thames. Website: www.hlf.org.uk.
The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is open all day and on weekends as per the opening hours of the glasshouses in the Gardens. Entrance to the gallery is at no additional cost to Gardens admission.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
In 1759 Princess Augusta, mother of King George III, started an ambitious nine-acre physic garden around Kew Palace. Every generation has added to the charms and curiosities of Kew, now a major international visitor attraction. Together the landscaped, 132 hectares of Kew Gardens and RBG Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew Gardens is a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site and houses over 40 listed buildings and other structures including the Palm House, Temperate House, Orangery and Pagoda as well as two ancient monuments, Queen Charlotte's Cottage and Kew Palace. RBG Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world.
Wakehurst Place is also home to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. By 2010, RBG Kew and its partners will have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.24, 200 species). The aim is to conserve 25% by 2020 and funds are being actively sought in order to continue to develop this vital work. For further information please visit www.kew.org/msbp.
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