Restoring the gallery

Marianne North Gallery at Kew during restoration
Marianne North Gallery at Kew

It is now 125 years since the Gallery first opened its doors to great public acclaim. With no television or film and photography in its genesis, visitors flocked to see the brilliantly coloured flora, fauna and scenes of local people from around the world that North carefully recorded in her 832 paintings.  Since that time many things have changed at Kew but the Gallery remains almost untouched.  We now celebrate Marianne North's contribution not only as an artist and intrepid explorer but as one of Kew's first benefactors whose building and collections constitute an important piece of our heritage and a unique window on to the past.

The Marianne North Gallery is also starting to show its age in other, less fortunate ways. Unlike today's purpose-built exhibition spaces, the building has no proper environmental controls so heat and damp can affect the paintings and promote mould. The roof is no longer sound and the walls are not always weather tight. Any conservation problems that affect the building can transfer easily to the paintings.  The unusual wall-to-ceiling framing system which Marianne North invented to display her works compounds this problem as the paintings are brought into direct contact with the walls behind and can soak up any moisture that seeps through the brickwork. 

Marianne North Gallery restorer

Kew has been looking at how to deal with these problems, which if left unchecked, could eventually lead to closure of the Gallery.  The building and hanging system are both listed and Marianne North donated the Gallery and her collection to Kew on condition that they remain together, so our options going forward are limited. Specialist staff across the organization, from conservators and estate management, to education and outreach, visitor services, training and volunteers have formed a team to work out not only how to restore the building and its collections but at the same time make a visit to the Gallery more engaging and enjoyable through new interpretation, better signage and a packed programme of fun activities with a range of different themes.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) have awarded us a Development Grant (which will pay for much of our development costs) and a Stage One Pass for the Marianne North Gallery project.  While a Stage One Pass does not guarantee more funding, it is an indication of positive support and means the HLF have set a grant aside for our scheme once it has been fully worked-up.  We are now working on a Stage Two application to secure this project grant which may cover up to half the total costs involved. In the interim, we still need to raise substantial funds from individuals, companies and charitable trusts to match any contribution from the lottery.

Where next?