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Marianne North: A different view

Fiona Ainsworth
29 March 2011
Come into Kew's Library, Art & Archives Reading Room to see our latest display in the Wolfson Rare Books Room.

To mark the completion of the conservation of the Marianne North Gallery and all the paintings, and timed to coincide with the special event marking this on 29 March 2011, the Library, Art & Archives’ new display shows a different side to Marianne North from the more familiar one on view in the Gallery.

The Gallery is Marianne North’s chief legacy and, in our display, you can see the 1879 letter in which she proposed the building of it to Sir Joseph Hooker, as well as her own plan of the lay-out of the paintings. We also have a couple of letters, one to her maid Annie on the occasion of Annie’s marriage, and the other to a friend, Dr Allman, describing her efforts to get to a good position on top of a rock from which to paint – this letter comes with a little illustration of Marianne perched on this rock!

Inside the restored Marianne North Gallery (Image: RBG Kew)


'Holiday snaps'

Kew is lucky enough to have paintings in addition to the ones selected for the Gallery, and you can see five of these in our display. They are more like holiday snaps of the local sights: she painted temples and other buildings and often, as can be seen in the Gallery pictures, animals. We have two featuring elephants; in one scene a herd are taking a dip in a river, which may be Lucknow: “I saw some odd things in Lucknow; one of the oddest, twenty elephants taking their bath, each with his attendant scrubber. I tried to paint this” (Recollections, vol. 2, p.24). The other painting shows the following scene: “[In Bhaunagar] then we paid a visit to the famous elephant which had been brought up with a goat, and could not bear to see anyone touch his friend or even her two kids. He pawed the ground, threw up his trunk, and roared with rage till she was free again, then stroked her with his trunk, and pushed the hay and green stuff towards her, allowing the little kids to walk over his feet” (Recollections, vol. 2, p. 80). Marianne had already had a closer encounter with an elephant. At Hardwar, “an elephant was put at my command; but one ride was enough. I did not enjoy his slow, slouching walk and high-over-every-bodyishness” (Recollections, vol. 1, p. 349).


A Marianne North painting now returned to the Gallery following Conservation work (no.19) (Image: RBG Kew)


"A perfect home in the country"

Our display also includes two paintings of Alderley, the home in Gloucestershire she rented from 1886 for the last five years of her life – “a perfect home in the country ... and a garden to make after my own fashion”. She took particular pleasure in creating the garden, for which she received plants from, among others, Kew (“all sorts of foreign rarities” according to her sister Catherine) but the commoner plants seemed to delight her the most: “No life is so charming as a country one in England, and no flowers are sweeter or more lovely than the primroses, cowslips, bluebells, and violets which grow in abundance all round me here” (Recollections, vol. 2, p. 330, 333).

You are welcome to visit the Reading Room to see the Marianne North display, please just let us know if you are coming by email:, telephone: +44 (0)20 8332 5414 or by writing to Library, Art & Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, TW9 3AE.

- Fiona -


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