Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kew Gardens - two women and two galleries for botanical art

The construction of the new Shirley Sherwood Galley of Botanical Art next to the North Gallery (October 2007)

This year there will be two galleries for botanical art in Kew Gardens. The North Gallery, which houses the work of Marianne North, will be joined by a brand new gallery exhibiting the Shirley Sherwood Collection. This new gallery will be the first in the world to be wholly devoted to exhibitions of botanical art and is due to open this Spring and will have two major exhibitions in the Spring and Autumn - read on for more details.

I took the above photograph last October when the gallery was 'out of the ground'.

You can read more about:
Dr Sherwood travels extensively and has been collecting contemporary botanical art since 1990. Her comprehensive collection includes work by artists living in thirty different countries and documents the emergence of a new wave of botanical painters and the renaissance of their art form. Arguably the most important private collection of twentieth century botanical art in the world, these art works complement Kew's own collection which has a rich heritage of eighteenth and nineteenth century illustrations as well as more recent acquisitions.
Kew Gardens
The botanical art of Marianne North and the North Gallery

Marianne North (1830-1890) displayed a talent for drawing and developed an interest in travelling from an early age.

She travelled widely in her lifetime and painted quickly and amassed an amazing collection of paintings of flowers, fruits and vegetables in their natural habitat. Her travels started in the USA, from where she went to Canada, the Caribbean, Brazil, Japan, Sarawak, Java, Sri Lanka, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Seychelles and Chile. - all in Victororian dress(!) - with brief returns to the UK in between her various journies.

Today the Gallery houses 832 of her paintings which depict over 900 species of plants.

The Gallery was her idea and she provided support to enable it to be built to house her collection of paintings. Sadly the gallery has deteriorated in recent years and now needs a major refurbishment - due to start when the new Gallery right next door has opened.

Kew Gardens - The Botanical Art Collection

Kew's collection of botanical art forms part of the National Reference Collection and plays a key role in plant science research, particularly for the identification of plants. It's arranged systematically by plant families.

The collection has been assembled over the last 200 years and includes holds works by the great masters of the eighteenth century, such as G. D. Ehret, the Bauer brothers and Redouté, nineteenth century artists including Walter Hood Fitch and Marianne North and by twentieth century and contemporary botanical artists such as Margaret Mee, Stella Ross-Craig and Christabel King. It also includes many of the original botanically precise watercolours from Curtis's Botanical Magazine dating back to 1789.

The botanical art collection of Dr Shirley Sherwood

Dr Shirley Sherwood is one of the leading collectors of botanical art, studied botany at Oxford and once thought about becoming a botanical illustrator but went off to become a scientist involved in the team which developed Tagamet instead.

Having renewed her interest in botanical art in the 1991, she now owns over 500 contemporary botanical paintings and drawings, collected from nearly 200 artists, from 30 different countries, and has written several books including Contemporary Botanical Artists: The Shirley Sherwood Collection and A Passion for Plants: Contemporary Botanical Masterworks.

Parts of her collection have toured the United States including the Hunt Institute, Pittsburgh and Denver Art Museum. In 2003 she showed a hundred works at the Smithsonian in Washington which were visited by over half a million people.

Today she is also Editor-in-Chief of the Orient-Express Magazine (her husband owns Sea Containers and the Orient Express). She is also a Vice Chairman and a judge on the Picture Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society, London; a former trustee on the Advisory Board of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew ; an honorary trustee of the American Society for Botanical Artists; a Fellow of the Linnean Society and on the Board of the Smithsonian Institution.

The New Gallery

An extract from the sign about the new gallery
showing three views of the new gallery
and its relationship with the North gallery

The idea behind the design of The Shirley Sherwood Gallery is that it should make viewing of botanical art by Kew's visitors much easier while at the same time providing a protective environment for the artwork. The main gallery space is a ‘box within a box' where the environment, - both climate and light - can be controlled. The exhibition spaces, totalling 300 square metres, have also been designed to be as flexible as possible, by using versatile display and lighting systems. Prints, an 'art on demand' service and publications will be available for sale.

In April 2008, the inaugural exhibition aims to take highlights from both the Kew Gardens and the Sherwood Collections to demonstrate the scope of the two collections and the richness of botanical art as a whole. It will also provide an overview of the most significant artists from c1700 through to contemporary artists. It sounds to me like this is an exhibition which should not be missed by those who are enthusiastic about botanical art. I'll be an early visitor when it opens!

As one might expect a book to accompany the exhibition has been written and will provide a richly illustrated introduction to the two collections.

The autumn of 2008 will have the second exhibition of the new galery. This will focus on Trees and look at how trees have been illustrated. It's intended that future exhibitions will celebrate a range of artists and their subjects throughout the history of botanical illustration.

So - all in all there's a big treat ahead for botanical art fans in 2008!

If you want to take a look at what Kew looks like in February take a look at the set of flickr photos in the links below.

[Note: Today's post on Travels with a sketchbook in...... is about Henry Moore in Kew Gardens ]



  1. My interest in botanical art started when I came across an exhibition of the Shirley Sherwood Collection, in the 1990s, at the gallery in Kew Gardens. I visited it many times . As a Friend of Kew, I have been lucky enough to visit the Herbarium and browse through some of their original paintings and drawings and seen how they use some of the preserved plant specimens (some of them very old) for research.

  2. I am really looking forward to your April post, Katherine. Looks like a treasure chest of pictures.

  3. I'm planning to travel to Kew this spring to see the new gallery -- so exciting! Thanks for the great post!

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  5. I was lucky to visit Kew Gardens a few years ago and saw the Dale Chihuly glass exhibit among the gardens. I certainly hope I can get back there one day to visit the botanical art gallery! The gardens are beautiful and inspiring.


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