The walls of the gallery are covered with almost all of Marianne North's botanical paintings.
After an exhibition in London in 1879, North had the idea of showing her paintings at Kew. She offered to build a gallery if Kew Director, Joseph Hooker, would agree to display her life’s work in it.
The gallery opened in 1882, built in a mix of classical and colonial styles. North had wanted tea and coffee served to visitors, however Hooker declined her request. Instead she painted a coffee plant over one entrance door and tea over the other.
Marianne North was an unmarried Victorian woman of comfortable means. Following the death of her father (in 1871) she set off on a series of trips to make a pictorial record of the tropical and exotic plants of the world.
She travelled to areas that the 'establishment' thought 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.
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.
A £1.8 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant and additional donations allowed for the restoration of the building and the conservation of the artwork in 2008.
During the project a conservator discovered a painting hidden on the back of another painting. It had not been seen for over 120 years, since North covered it with a backing board.
The Remarkable Miss North, presented by Emilia Fox, reveals the story of Marianne North, one of the most prolific botanical artists of the Victorian age. £13.95
This beautiful gift book details North’s life and travels, and this new edition’s larger format allows her stunning images to truly shine. £15
Choose from one hundred of Marianne North's botanical artworks. Art prints, framed pictures, canvas and perspex in a variety of sizes. From £17.49