Kew’s archives contain 200,000 works of botanical art. These include pieces by 18th and 19th century masters, including Ehret, Redouté and the Bauer brothers, along with works by contemporary artists.
In 2008, Kew opened a new gallery to display these works alongside pieces from the collection of Dr Shirley Sherwood.
With a carefully controlled interior climate, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is the first public gallery in the world dedicated to showing botanical art.
This exhibition forms a portrait of the Brazilian Amazon, resulting from collaboration between the artist Lindsay Sekulowicz and Kew’s Science team.
Interested in plants and art since childhood, Dr Shirley Sherwood earned her undergraduate degree in botany from Oxford University, then her D. Phil. as part of the research team of Nobel Prize winner Sir James Black.
She travels extensively and has been collecting contemporary botanical illustrations since 1990.
Her comprehensive collection from over 200 artists, living in 30 different countries, documents the emergence of a new wave of botanical paintings and the renaissance of their art form.
The earliest surviving illustrated botanical work is the Codex vindobonensis. It is a copy of Dioscorides’ de Materia Medica, and was made in the year 512.
As a genre of art, botanical illustration dates back to the 15th century, when herbals (books describing the culinary and medicinal uses of plants) were printed containing illustrations of flowers. In the 16th century printing techniques advanced and new plants came to Europe, wealthy individuals and botanic gardens commissioned artists to record them in 'Florilegia'.
Botanical illustrations were important scientific records through which plants were named and classified. Kew's 'Botanick Painter to His Majesty' Franz Bauer drew a pollen grain in the 18th century, using only a basic microscope, which was later proved by a scanning electron microscope to be entirely accurate. Black and white illustrations are still used in scientific publications today, bringing out detail that a photograph could never do.
Kew still commissions around 100 botanical illustrations a year.
Many examples of botanical art, including contemporary British artists, Japanese floral prints and works from Fitch, Ehret and Curtis.
Kew's Botanicum, Curtis's Botanical Magazine, books about drawing and painting techniques, and colouring books.
The Galleries gift shop specialises in a wide range of botanical gifts, including prints, books, jewellery and cards inspired by our changing exhibitions.