Illustrations and Artefacts Collections

Our Illustrations Collection is a world-renowned resource for botanical illustration forming an exceptional visual record for species of plants and fungi. Our Artefacts Collection includes a diverse range of items from botanical medals to furniture.

Illustrations and Artefacts Collection

The Illustrations Collection is a world-renowned resource for botanical illustration forming an exceptional visual record for species of plants and fungi.

Additional works on paper, portraits, photographs, and three-dimensional objects chart the history of botany and the enduring role played by Kew. 

It comprises over 200,000 prints and drawings, assembled over the last 200 years and ranging in date from the 18th century to the present day. 

 

The Artefacts Collection ranges from botanical medals, scientific equipment and furniture, to a travelling chair used by the 18th century naturalist Sir Joseph Banks. 

The role of illustrations in taxonomy 

The illustrations we hold are a working resource, accessible and available for use by Kew staff and visiting researchers as a reference tool alongside the preserved herbarium specimens. Our Illustrations Collection is arranged systematically by plant family in the same way as the Herbarium, both these collections have the same function in some respects and type illustrations occasionally act as the original source for the name and description of a plant species in the absence of a type specimen.

As well as documenting the visual characteristics of plants and fungi, the illustrations have historical value in terms of provenance, context and in relation to specific plant hunters. The collection has a global reach; recording plants from around the world with the authorship of a wide range of nationalities. 

Other noted illustrations

These are ordered by artist and origin and include work by the great 18th century masters of botanical illustration. We have examples from the great masters of botanical illustration of the 18th century, such as G D Ehret, P J Redouté and the Bauer brothers, through to Thomas Duncanson, George Bond and Walter Hood Fitch in the 19th century.  

The holdings include a high proportion of the early originals prepared for Curtis's Botanical Magazine, together with the work of 20th century contributors such as Lilian Snelling, Stella Ross-Craig, Mary Grierson and Margaret Stones. Contemporary artists represented include: Christabel King, Ann Farrer and Pandora Sellars. 

There are also many special collections including the work of Margaret Meen, Thomas Baines, William Roxburgh, Margaret Mee, Joseph Hooker's Indian sketches, the Edouard Morren collection of Bromeliad paintings and, of course, the Marianne North collection (see below). which is housed in the gallery named after her in the Gardens. 

We also hold an extensive collection of portraits of individuals spanning several centuries to the current day relating to all aspects of botany and horticulture, including artists. 

There is a description of the collections in: Ward, M. & Flanagan, J. (2003). Portraying plants - illustrations collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Art Libraries Journal v.28, n.3, 22-28. 

 

More material at Kew 

The Marianne North collection is housed in the gallery named after her in the Gardens, this can be visited by the public and there is also an online gallery.

There is also an ongoing schedule of exhibitions from our Illustrations and Artefact Collection in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.

Our Economic Botany Collection includes many artefacts dating from the 1840s to the current day, including many specimens collected by historically important plant collectors and explorers. These are not generally available to the public but can be searched online.