Marianne North Gallery: Restoring the Gallery
Kew still needs to raise funds from individuals, companies and charitable trusts to complete the conservation work required on over 500 of the Gallery’s paintings.
It's now 127 years since the Marianne North Gallery first opened its doors to great public acclaim.
With television, film or 'popular colour' photography yet to be invented, visitors flocked to see the brilliantly-coloured flora, fauna and scenes of local people from around the world that Marianne North carefully recorded in her 833 paintings.
We now celebrate Marianne North’s contribution not only as an artist and explorer but as one of Kew’s first benefactors, whose building and collections are an important part of our heritage and a unique window on the past.
In need of repair
The Marianne North Gallery was beginning to show its age. Unlike today’s purpose-built exhibition spaces, the building had no proper environmental controls so heat, damp and mould were damaging the paintings. The roof was no longer sound and the walls were not weather-tight. Conservation problems with the building also affected the paintings.
The unusual wall-to-ceiling framing system invented by Marianne North to display her works worsened the problem; paintings in direct contact with the walls soaked up any moisture that seeped through the brickwork.
Kew looked at how to deal with these problems and decided it was necessary to close the Gallery to the public so that a major restoration project could get underway. The Grade II building and hanging system are listed and Marianne North donated the Gallery and her collection to Kew on condition they remain together.
Specialist staff across the organisation, from conservators and estate management to education and outreach, visitor services, training and volunteers, formed a team to work out how to restore the building and its collections.
The team also worked out how to make a visit to the Gallery more engaging and enjoyable through new interpretation, better signage and a packed programme of information, educational and fun activities with different themes.
Raising the money
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded Kew a grant of £1,867,000, which represented half of the funding needed to restore the gallery and conserve the paintings for future generations. A wide range of individuals, companies and charitable trusts generously contributed to covering much of the rest of the costs.
The roofs have been repaired with new slate and lead, replacing a later-introduced but deteriorating copper roof over the main gallery. Walls have been substantially repaired and repointed and the stonework fixed and some replaced where there has been serious decay.
Externally, the joinery and decorative metalwork have reverted to their earlier dark colouring, having been repainted white in the late 20th century.
Internally, the earlier richness of decorative detail, lost since the 1930s onwards, has been reinstated with the original stencil decoration renewed. The floor tiling has been relaid to the original pattern, replacing a 1950s terrazzo floor.
Of greatest benefit to the collection are the new lighting, heating and ventilation systems.The introduction of new lighting systems replaces fluorescent tubes. The new mechanical air heating and ventilation system makes use of existing voids within the building fabric, coupled with a new hanging system for the paintings - positioning them off the wall face to permit air circulation behind the frames.
Interpretation and exhibition
- An audiovisual presentation in the exhibition room uses quotations from Marianne North's journal and letters and books by people who knew her
- a touch-screen interactive display in the main gallery focuses on plant diversity, using Marianne’s paintings to highlight modifications of plant structures visitors can add their own ‘plant memories’ to a map to provide a present-day account of reactions to the natural world
- some of the plants featured in Marianne's paintings can be see growing in Kew’s glasshouses.
Shop at Kew
- Buy a Marianne North souvenir
- A selection of beautiful Marianne North prints are now available to buy online.
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