Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Exhibition Review: The Highgrove Florilegium at the Garden Museum

Last year I wrote about the Highgrove Florilegium in Volume 1 of The Highgrove Florilegium is published.
The Highgrove Florilegium will comprise two volumes of 120 watercolours which record the plants in the gardens at Highgrove, which is the family home near Tetbury in Gloucestershire of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
I recently visited the Garden Museum where there is an exhibition this summer of some of the original botanical art paintings which make up the Highgrove Florilegium. The exhibition continues until 31st August 2009.

Tomorrow I'm visiting the garden at Highgrove. Organisations can apply to visit and I'm going with a party from the Prince's Drawing School.

What is a florilegium?

In essence, a Florilegium is a formal botanical illustration record of a collection of flowers and plants. It's typically been used in relation to the creation of a formal record of plants found in a garden of significance. (For example, see this site about Basilius Besler (1561 - 1629) who is best known for spending sixteeen years compiling the book known as the Hortus Eystettensis which was a florilegium of all the plants grown in the garden of the prince bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria.)
Florilegium (plural Florilegia) is a Latin word for a collection of 'flowers' (excellent excerpts), from the corpus of a considerably larger oeuvre. It was adapted from the Greek anthologia or anthology, with the same etymological meaning.
Wikipedia - Florilegium
The Highgrove Florilegium

The Highgrove Florilegium is particularly special because it's the very first British Royal Florilegium. Which considering we're a nation of gardening fanatics is rather surprising. It was originally commissioned as a way of marking the 60th birthday of the Prince of Wales. You can read more about it in in Volume 1 of The Highgrove Florilegium is published.

The first copies of the second volume of the Highgrove Florilegium were finished in time for the opening of this new exhibition of original paintings created specially for the Highgrove Florilegium at the Garden Museum - next to Lambeth Palace on the south bank of the Thames.

The paintings
Distinguished botanists worked with the Head Gardener at Highgrove, to ensure that this great garden is represented in all its aspects by an appropriate selection of material, including plants that are useful or commonplace, rare and in decline, or just extravagantly beautiful. Work was submitted for selection to a rigorous panel of experts led by Anne-Marie Evans MA FLS, who developed the Diploma Course in Botanical Painting at the Chelsea Physic Garden.
Garden Museum
Artists whose work I particularly admired in the exhibition are as follows:
If you like botanical art and have a chance to get to London before the end of August I do recommend a visit to this exhibition. All the works are excellent, displayed well and are well lit so it's very easy to inspect the very high quality of the painting. There's a £6 entrance charge to the Museum.

The production of each volume of the Florilegium
The quality of the Florilegium is not just confined to the paintings. The whole production process has used high quality production processes and crafts people who are highlighted below.
The watercolour paintings on display in the museum have been scanned at actual size for printing the limited edition facsimiles using a process of stochastic lithography. I spent a little time trying to find out what this is - which is not easy! Below is the best and shortest explanation I could find on the Internet.
This process represents a completely new advance in printing technology. Unlike conventional lithographic origination which employs the mechanical cross-line screen and the equal spacing of half-tone dots, computer-controlled stochastic, or frequency modulated screening, delivers a random effect from microdots whose distribution varies according to tonal value.
15 colours of ink have been used to produce the colour plates. These have been printed on "American Cotton" paper made in the USA at the Monadnock Paper Mills in Benington New Hampshire. The mills are very much oriented towards sustainability and conservation which must have pleased the Prince! The text was printed on Somerset Bookwove made at St. Cuthberts Mill in Somerset. Both the papers were specially made for the publication.

The decorative end papers contain architectural drawings of features found in the garden. These are also reproduced as vignettes within the text. The drawings are by Richard Shirley Smith of Marlborough.

Victoria Hall hand marbled the sheets of paper for the front and back of each book.

The pages of each volume were collated and swen by hand in the bookbindery of Stephen Conway in Halifax Yorkshire. I gather from the catalogue that he runs one of a very few hand binderies in England. James Brockman and Stuart Brockman handfinished the books in gold leaf.

There is to be a limited edition of 175 numbered sets of a facsimile of the Highgrove Florilegium in two volumes in a leather half-binding available on subscription at a price of (take a deep breath) £10,950. All the royalties from the sale are going to the Prince of Wales's charities supported by the The Prince's Charities Foundation. I know these do a terrific job and are well worth supporting - check the website to see why. (You can now follow the Prince of Wales Charities on Twitter). These are three of them
Exhibition catalogue

The exhibition catalogue summarises the processes used for the production of the Florilegium - there's rather more detail on display in the exhibition. It also lists the artists and provides biographical details for each

The catalogue contains reproductions of certain individual paintings in the exhibition.

However what it does not do is provide a catalogue of the work! It calagoues the illustrations - but not the exhibition. Which I found extremely odd. There are no details as to size of the work - although they are produced to an identical size - which is somewhat smaller than some of the very impressive works I see at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists or at the Shirley Sherwood gallery in Kew. However since the intention is to produce a facsimile reproduction in the florilegium proper it's hardly surprising they are the same size and that this is dictated by the size of the overall volume.

What I would have liked to have seen is:
  • an indication of whether or not all artists were working to life size and whether or not they all worked on the same paper.
  • a list of all the works included in the Florilegium and which artist produced what. I assume there was a good reason for this omission and that this wasn't an oversight - although I'm perplexed as to what this was. It's not as if the The Florilegium is something which could be easily 'faked' and it would have been interesting to know exactly what grows in the garden.
I wonder if a copy is being donated to the Library at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew?

For more about Florilegiums see Botanical Art - Resources for Artists and A History of Botanical Art - Resources for Botanical Art Lovers


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