The new exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art - 'Botanicals, Environmental Expressions in Art from the Alisa and Isaac M. Sutton Collection' - includes some intriguing models of apples and pears sent to Victorian England from Australia.
Currently on display at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art are these striking models of apples and pears from the Economic Botany Collection.
The pear models at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
The London International Exhibition 1862
They form part of a collection of 200 models of apples and pears, made of plaster or wax, which were donated to the Kew Museum by the Australian states of Tasmania and Victoria after the 1862 International Exhibition. This exhibition was held at South Kensington in London on the site of the current Natural History Museum. Such exhibitions were a means for countries to secure export markets for their natural resources, their crops, and their finished goods. They also served to inform prospective emigrants of the social and working opportunities they could offer.
A stereoscopic image from the London International Exhibition 1862 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
The cost of the models was borne by fruit growers in the two Australian states. They were produced by various artists, most of whom are not identified. However, certain of the models from Victoria were made by Thomas McMillan, who also created natural history models for the Industrial & Technological Museum in Melbourne. Every detail of the various fruit varieties has been accurately adhered to. Even insect bore-holes are included!
Model of a Mannington Pearmain apple, showing insect bore-hole
The apple models chosen for display represent both traditional ‘old world’ varieties such as the ‘Bramley Seedling’, as well as newer colonial varieties like ‘Wolf River’. Others reflect more patriotic inclinations, for example ‘Prince Albert’ and ‘Royal Jubilee’. Amongst the pears, names such as ‘Duchesse d’Angouleme’ and ‘Nouvelle Merveille’ are indicative of French and Belgian endeavours in this branch of horticulture, commonly referred to in the nineteenth century as ‘pomology’.
But why models? Why not illustrations or actual specimens? With the advent of the public museum in the nineteenth century, museums were faced with the problem of how to display plants in permanent exhibits. Herbarium sheets were of use primarily to the scientist. With their pressed, dried specimens, they did not make very interesting display objects for a more general public. Models presented the ideal solution in their ability to show the scale, colour, texture, and form of plants, both externally and internally. Charles Darwin’s mentor at Cambridge University, Professor John Stevens Henslow, was one of many men of science who advocated the use of models in museums. He helped William Hooker arrange the first museum here at Kew in 1847 and he said:
'Dried plants from the Herbarium cannot be advantageously displayed in glass cases. The following method may be adopted for the typical epitome:- a few wax models of flowers with figures of such parts as require to be magnified; but especially entire fruits, with dissections exposing the seed and embryo.'
Once at Kew, the models were displayed on the middle floor of Museum No. 1 alongside other specimens and objects related to the Rosaceae family.
Museum No. 1 c. 1900
Since the closure of the Museum of Economic Botany in 1987, they have resided in the Economic Botany Collection store in the Banks Building where, like the whole of the Collection, they are available for study by researchers and for loan to other museums.
- Caroline -
Visit 'Botanicals - Environmental Expressions in Art'
- Venue - The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Kew Gardens (how to find us)
- Dates - Saturday 19 October 2013 - Sunday 19 January 2014
- Price - FREE with admission to the Gardens (See detailed ticket information)
- More information - Contact the gallery on 0208 332 3622 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Mark Nesbitt
Mark Nesbitt is curator of the Economic Botany Collection at Kew. After studying agricultural botany at Reading University, Mark moved onto the archaeology of plants via a doctorate at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. After 15 years of research in the Near East, he joined Kew in 1999 as a specialist in useful plants both past and present.
At the core of Mark's work is caring for the Collection: adding new specimens (about 800 a year), monitoring environmental conditions, lending to exhibitions, upgrading the Collection database and rehousing specimens. Mark hosts around 500 visitors each year, from many different disciplines, organises conservation, teaching and research projects with collaborators, and carries out research into the history of plant fibres, medicine and colonial botany. A team of 5-6 volunteers, placement students and interns play a vital role in keeping everything going.
Mark's aims are both to ensure the Collection is cared for to modern museum standards, and to help the fascinating stories told by its 85,000 artefacts reach the widest possible audience.
- around the world
- ground breaking
- the UK
- at risk
- needs help
- english heritage
- Kew overseas
- verge of extinction
- wet tropics
- gifts that help
- of use
- hot spot
- South East Asia
- english garden
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