Marianne North Gallery: Marianne and Kew
In 1871 Marianne, at the age of 40, began her astonishing series of trips around the world. She was inspired by earlier travels with her father and the exotic plant collections she saw at Kew.
Marianne North was a remarkable Victorian artist who travelled the globe to satisfy her passion for recording the world’s flora with her paintbrush. The result of these epic journeys can be seen in Kew's Marianne North Gallery, where tier upon tier of brightly coloured paintings of flowers, landscapes, animals and birds are arranged. There are 832 paintings, all completed in thirteen years of travel round the world.
Marianne was devoted to her father Frederick North who was Liberal MP for Hastings; when he died in 1869 it had a profound effect on her as until then all life had centred on him.
In 1871 Marianne, aged 40, began her astonishing series of trips around the world. She was inspired by earlier travels with her father and the exotic plant collections she saw at Kew. Her words on embarking on this new period in her life sum up her excitement: "I had long dreamed of going to some tropical country to paint its peculiar vegetation on the spot in natural abundant luxuriance..."
Between 1871 and 1885 Marianne North visited America, Canada, Jamaica, Brazil, Tenerife, Japan, Singapore, Sarawak, Java, Sri Lanka, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Seychelles and Chile.
Often she would stay away for long periods. In India she visited a number of regions over a period of nearly 18 months; in Brazil she spent 13 months travelling into the interior and making long and arduous journeys across very rough terrain.
Friends in high places
Marianne was fortunately well connected to people within her father’s political circle and was able to make use of contacts who supported her in her travels. She was invited to dine with the President of the USA and the poet Longfellow and was able to stay with a range of well-to-do acquaintances such as the Rajah and Rani of Sarawak. In the UK Marianne also had many supporters including Edward Lear, Charles Darwin and Sir Joseph Hooker then Director of Kew.
A pioneering woman
Notwithstanding these ‘introductions’ Marianne was rare among women of this period – travelling unaccompanied and visiting areas virtually unknown to many Europeans. Marianne was at her happiest when discovering plants and painting and she spent nearly all her time abroad in the wild, surrounded by the habitats and plants she longed to capture in oil paint.
Leaving a legacy
Some of the plants Marianne North painted proved to be new to science, and one genus and four species were named in her honour. She took a year off from travelling in 1881 to 1882 to arrange her pictures in the Gallery at Kew, which was built at her own expense and designed by James Ferguson, the architectural historian.
Exhausted from her extensive travels and failing health, Marianne North retired to Gloucestershire where she died on 30th August 1890. Her legacy lives on in the Gallery, providing Kew visitors with the chance to explore the amazing ‘snapshot in time’ represented by her paintings.
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- Marianne North Recollections - Watch the video
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