A cool artist and impressive woman who is rather underrepresented on the net.
Last I checked
there were maybe four or so pages out there (most on the Kew Gardens site) that even
mention her and one other page actually devoted to her. If anyone has any links or just
actually reads this and has the slightest interest in it, tell me.
Marianne North was the eldest daughter of Frederick North a British MP. She
never married and after her father's death she spent her time traveling the world and depicting the local flora. At
a time when travel was difficult and women traveling alone relatively rare she traveled
through parts of six continents doing botanical studies of native plants
in oils (not an easy medium to work with on the road I can say from
experience). She executed an incredible number of works, and none of the published
reproductions I've seen begin to do them justice. Her close-ups of fruit and flowers are
particularly amazing in their vivid realism. She was also a friend of
many prestigious naturalists of her time including
Darwin, among other name dropping distinctions she was photographed by Julia
Margaret Cameron, invited to dinner at the White House by Ulysses
S Grant, (who'd mistaken her for someone more important) and expressed a compulsive desire to wash her hands after
letting Bringham Young shake them.
The majority of her works are collected in the Marianne North house in Kew Gardens,
London. She commissioned the house's design from the architect James Fergusson (a friend),
painted friezes around the ceiling's and doors and arranged the paintings herself. The
method of display is interesting in that the paintings are hung side by side so as
to completely cover the walls in a way reminiscent of renaissance art collections
and strikingly different from both 19th century and modern gallery styles.
She also left another record of her travels in the form of an
autobiography "Recollections of a Happy Life" the first volume
of which was, last time I checked, available in a recent reprint from Amazon, it having benefited from the
interest in Victorian heroines of all descriptions. It's quite
interesting, she had strong opinions which she freely expressed, and the book
is a fascinating
through a world long gone. The second volume was
also reprinted relatively recently, I think it's no longer in print, though
I've seen it listed on book search engines for a reasonable price. As far as I
know the 3d volume hasn't been reprinted and originals are pretty pricey. There is also a illustrated very
abbreviated version of the first volume published by Kew gardens as A Vision of Paradise.
Personally I remember clearly both of my visits to the Marianne North building at
Kew. I was relatively young on both occasions visiting London with my family. I was
really impressed by the volume of images of lush looking plants packed in to one
space. I like to think that the collection had a large part in inspiring my
abiding interests in painting and tropical plants, which are among my few redeeming
features since computer people are generally such unrelenting bores. :)
Winter break ('99-2000)I was in London for a third time, and got the chance to visit the house again
after about 7 years. Again, I was amazed at how beautiful the collection is. The mass of
paintings is overwhelming but at the same time truly beautiful, all the
diversity of the world shoehorned into one room. If you're ever in London and
into botanical painting or Victorian
heroines it is something not to miss.
Other Marianne North resources:
General info and an expanding collection of scans of her paintings.
Some Pictures of Marian North's work, shamelessly scanned and probably in
violation of someone's copyright..
Comments, commissions offers, death-threats, etc to
anthony.santella (-insert at sign here-) gmail.com