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Marianne North Gallery

Born in 1830, Marianne North devoted her life to travelling the world and painting plants and the walls of this gallery are lined with hundreds of her paintings.
The Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens

Gallery opening times

10am to 5pm

 Current opening times

History and design

Although she had no formal training in illustration, and was rather unconventional in her methods, Marianne North had a natural artistic talent and was very prolific. She inherited her interest in travelling from her father, the MP Frederick North. Her political connections served her well, providing her with letters of introduction to ambassadors, viceroys, rajahs, governors and ministers all over the world.

Marianne undertook her first journey, to the United States, Canada and Jamaica, in 1871. This was followed by an eight-month stay in Brazil, during which she completed more than 100 paintings. She tended to depict landscapes and natural habitats rather than individual plants. One picture, from Brazil, shows a colony of the black, red and yellow butterfly Heliconius erato phyllis roosting on a palm leaf. Another shows Mount Fujiyama, Japan, framed by the climbing shrub Wisteria sinensis.

Marianne travelled to Japan across the American continent in 1875, returning two years later via Sarawak, Java and Sri Lanka. Today her paintings from these places provide an important historical record. Some places are still recognisable from her paintings. For example, stands of the giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus) that she painted in 1877 at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, can still be seen thriving in the gardens today.

Access

The gallery is accessible to wheelchair users via a ramp to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery and wheelchair lift to the Marianne North Gallery. A disabled access toilet is located in the Marianne North Gallery.

After exhibiting her paintings in a London gallery in 1879, Marianne had the idea of showing them 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. After a visit to Australia and New Zealand, Marianne spent a year arranging her paintings inside the building. It opened to the public in 1882.

Gallery restoration

In 2008, Kew began restoring the Marianne North Gallery, with a £1.8 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant and additional financial support from other donors. The project involved making much needed structural repairs to the building, which reopened to the public in October 2009.

Each of Marianne’s 833 paintings, depicting more than 900 species of plants, was also restored and conserved. The conservation project started in the newly built Preservation studio in the Herbarium at Kew in 2008 and took two years to complete.

During the restoration, paper conservator Rachael Smith discovered a hidden painting. It had not been seen for over 120 years - since Marianne North covered it with its backing board. It took 16 hours to uncover half the image.

Kew conservationists achieved this using treatments ranging from removing the acidic backing board which Marianne stuck to every oil painting to make them rigid, to working with a microscope to gather, reposition and stick down tiny flakes of paint which had come loose in the fluctuating humidity.

Look for...

Marianne decorated the doors and their surrounds in the Gallery. She had originally asked Joseph Hooker that visitors to the gallery be served, 'tea or coffee and biscuits (nothing else) … at a fair price,' but Hooker refused so she painted coffee over one door and tea over the other.

 


Prints

You can buy beautiful prints of Marianne North's paintings online.

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Find it here

The Hive at Kew

The Hive promo image

multi-sensory experience, exploring bees and pollination.

Marianne North: A very intrepid painter

Marianne North: a very intrepid painter, by Michelle Payne book cover

The story of Marianne North who travelled the world painting exotic plants and landscapes. A revised edition of the book by Michelle Payne is now available to buy online.