The walls of the gallery are filled with almost all of Marianne North's botanical paintings.
After an exhibition in a London gallery in 1879, she had the idea of showing her paintings at Kew. She wrote to Sir Joseph Hooker, offering to build a gallery if he would agree to display her life’s work in it. The gallery was duly built in a mix of classical and colonial styles.
Although the gallery originally opened in 1882, Marianne continued to travel the world for several years afterwards. The inner gallery and porch were constructed while she embarked on a trip to Australia and it was during her return from this continent that she decided to arrange her paintings in geographical order. This took her a year to accomplish and the gallery reopened in its final form in 1886.
A £1.8 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant and additional donations in 2008 allowed for the restoration of the building and the conservation of the artwork.
During the project one of the conservators, Rachael Smith, discovered a painting hidden on the back of another painting in the gallery. It had not been seen for over 120 years, since Marianne North covered it with a backing board.
Marianne North was an unmarried Victorian woman of comfortable means. Following the death of her father, she set off in 1871, aged 41, on the first of a series of trips to make a pictorial record of the tropical and exotic plants of the world.
Although she travelled around the world, often with letters of introduction to ambassadors, viceroys, rajahs and governors, whenever possible, she preferred to do her own thing. Frequently, she travelled to areas that the 'establishment' thought that she shouldn't visit and it was this independence of spirit that made her journeys one of the most reported subjects in the British newspapers of the period.
While in the USA, Marianne North was invited to dine at the White House by President Ulysses S Grant, who found her so fascinating that it was only at coffee afterwards he realised he had invited the wrong Miss North.
Marianne North had no formal training in illustration but possessed a natural talent and was very prolific. Painting with a palette of bold colours, she sketched rapidly in pen and ink on heavy paper then used oils straight from the tube.
Unlike the tradition in Victorian flower painting, she liked to paint plants in their natural settings.
Marianne North designed and decorated the doors and their surrounds in the Gallery and wanted tea and coffee served to visitors. However Kew Director, Joseph Hooker, declined this request.
Instead Marianne painted coffee over one door and tea over the other.
Marianne North – A Very Intrepid Painter (Revised edition)
This beautiful gift book details North’s life and travels, and this new edition’s larger format allows her stunning images to truly shine.