There are many reasons to visit the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew near London. I posted a few of them after my visit last year. Nestled in a corner of Kew Gardens is the Marianne North Gallery which houses Britain's finest collection of botanical art, all painted by North during the latter half of the 19th Century. Even if you did not like the paintings it would be hard not to admire the room that she built with the architect James Ferguson to display her work.
I think its fabulous from the tiled floor to the black and gold picture frames to the stencilled cornices and friezes to the ironwork on the upper roof-lights.
It was built in the style of a Greek temple with light channelled from a light well in the roof, which prevents direct sunlight fading the paintings. The display is orderly excess; in the best way. The walls resemble the pages of a stamp album... remember those? The paintings are collated by countries and regions, each of these is named in lettering around the cornice work. Wood from 246 different trees can be seen around the lower portion of the room.
Marianne North was the eldest daughter of a wealthy MP and spent most of her time with him until his death. She did not care to marry, in her words 'Marriage was a terrible experiment' and she avoided formal social occasions wherever possible Her elevated social status prevented her from pursuing a career as a singer which had been her passion; then during her art class, she discovered oil painting which she described as 'A drug'. When her father died Mariane inherited the wealth to travel the world painting hundred of pictures of the vegetation in the countries that she visited.
These plants were often in the most inhospitable places which meant climbing mountains, trekking jungles and navigating rivers. Many of the species that she recorded are now extinct. Unlike plant hunters, Marianne did not dig up the specimens, her detailed, naturalistic paintings were returned to Britain where they were welcomed by botanists, scientists and other learned groups of the time.
Also, Marianne recorded the flora in relation to its surrounding often adding creatures that relied on the plant, therefore an ecosystem was being recorded. Vessels, buildings and people of the time appeared in some of the pictures. Because Marianne's work was in oil paint rather than watercolour these records have not faded and still offer a fascinating insight into our world during the 1800s. She found it hard to be contained and travel companions to be 'tiresome'. She saw most of the world, alone, carrying paints and paper and wearing a long frock. Which I think is admirable.
At The Stencil Library, we have designed several stencils of flowers and plants. On my first visit to Kew in the 1980s, my husband and I photographed urns, planters and lemon trees at the gardens which found their way into our Architectural range of stencils and into a collection that we called Garden Room. A version of the gallery idea can be seen in the black panelled living room at The Stencilled Home.
All 23 stencils featured in the room were inspired by ancient botanical engravings, each one can be ordered from our Gothic, Medieval and Tudor range of stencils. They are the perfect panel or furniture size and make an excellent cushion cover.
The Gustavian style bedroom that I featured in a recent post about half price stencils showed several botanical prints corralled into a framework of stencilled borders of Laurel, another idea that I think Marianne may have approved of...and the room features large-scale stencils of flowers. The classical Greek style borders that Marianne North chose have been fashionable throughout the ages and you can find similar in our Empire and Regency style stencils. All our stencils are made to order so sizes can be scaled to suit your project.
More information about Kew, their work and their visiting hours are on their website.