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Sheila Mannes-Abbott - a botanical life

The Illustrations Team
30 April 2014

The Illustrations Team invites you to visit the Library, Art and Archives at Kew to view a small retrospective display of the work of the botanical artist Sheila Mannes-Abbott, FLS FSBA (1939-2014).

Sheila’s talent was evident at an early age when she was awarded a scholarship at the age of 13 to the Ealing School of Art for a portfolio of flower paintings, and her vocation was established from this moment.

Photo of Sheila Mannes-Abbott painting

Sheila Mannes-Abbott at work

Early in her career, Sheila was encouraged by Wilfrid Blunt, the renowned expert on botanical art, who recognised her eye for detail. He compared her work to great botanical artists of history, Franz and Ferdinand Bauer, and fondly referred to her as 'Mrs Redouté', in reference to Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1840), the most highly esteemed botanical illustrator to Empress Josephine of France.

Painting of Digitalis purpurea L.

Digitalis purpurea L. by Sheila Mannes-Abbott

Sheila was a founder member of the Society of Botanical Artists. She lectured in botanical painting and design at Brunel University and taught short courses on botanical art for, among others, the Dorset Wildlife Trust and at the Museum of Garden History. In 2000 she was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and during her career was awarded several RHS medals, three of them gold.

Her work has appeared in a number of publications including Four seasons: the life of the English countryside (Eyre Methuen Ltd, 1981) which features beautifully observed illustrations documenting the flora of the countryside throughout the year, accompanied by observations from the naturalist Phil Drabble. Sheila also contributed plates to the botanical periodical Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.

Painting of Iris ‘Shah Jehan’

Iris ‘Shah Jehan’ by Sheila Mannes-Abbott

Sheila was a keen supporter of conservation, demonstrated by such paintings as her flora and fauna of Warren Copse, a 40-acre site of Old Windsor Forest which was subsequently saved from construction.

Her paintings are included in many important contemporary collections worldwide including those of Dr. Shirley Sherwood, the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library, and the Library, Art & Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Painting of Paxillus involutus

Paxillus involutus by Sheila Mannes-Abbott

The stunning paintings on show represent a small portion of her life’s work and demonstrate her skill and great talent as a botanical artist and her love of plants and the natural world.

Photo of a display window showing Sheila’s work

Display window in Kew's Library showing Sheila’s work

The display will remain on show until 16 May 2014 and is free to view by appointment, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, excluding bank holidays. Appointments can be made by contacting the library enquiry desk on 020 8332 5414 or by emailing library@kew.org.

- The Illustrations Team - 

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