The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Kew Gardens (until January 3 2010)
Amanita muscaria by Alexander Viazmensky
Shirley Sherwood Collection
Shirley Sherwood Collection
There have been a variety of exhibitions commemorating Darwin's 20th birthday celebrations this year and many have focused on evolution. I recently went to see The Art of Plant Evolution at Kew Gardens. It manages to neatly combine art and science by displaying botanical paintings in the latest evolutionary sequence revealed by recent DNA analysis.
I learned a lot about botany while going round the exhibition and subsequently reading the catalogue! Although I think I need to keep rereading until it all sinks in! It made me wonder how many botanical artists and illustrators are aware the range of information contained in this exhibition. I'd certainly recommend it to anybody interested in the botany as well as the art.
If you think about botanical art you frequently think of flowers - however there's a lot more to botanical art than just flowers (as the images in this post illustrate).
The exhibition uses a very useful 'tree of plant evolution' to explain the various relationships between different plants. The main plant groups covered by the exhibition are as follows:
- monilophytes - such as ferns
- Gymnosperms - those with a naked seed
- Angiosperms - 300,000 species of flowering plants. The latter includes the basal angiosperms - minor groups (the "does not fit anywhere else" plants); and the basal angiosperms - monocots (60 species with asingle seedling leaf and floral parts on whorls of three)
- Eudicots - identified by DNA sequence and have pollen grains with distinct grooves - early diverging eudicots; core eudicots (minor groups); core eudicots (asterids); core eudicots (rosids);
Each species chosen is illustrated with a painting from the Shirley Sherwood Collection. The exhibition displays 50 orders of plants in 118 families and features over 130 paintings by 84 contemporary artists from countries such as China, Australia, Japan, Brazil and the UK. Paintings cross the plant world providing everything from seaweed to daisies, including mosses, ferns, conifers and flowering plants.
Botanical art is combined with over 20 plant fossils on loan by courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum. These include fossil fern fronds, leaves of cycads, the Wollemi pine, ginkgoes and poplar, together with tiny walnuts and peas in a pod. Some of the fossils date from over 370 million years ago
One of the aspects of the exhibition which I particularly enjoyed was being introduced to a lot of very good botanical artists whose work I'd never seen before. New names to me included:
- Jean Claude Buytaert (Belgium) - a full time sculptor, painter and graphic artist and past Professor of Botanical art living in Antwerp. His work is a wonderful dry point etching of a pickaback plant
- Ann Schweizer is a South African artist whose pomegranates were gorgeous as well as botanical art
- Alexander Viazmensky, a Russian artist born in Leningrad who speciailises in painting mushrooms in watercolour. I loved the way there were 'specks of earth' painted on to the paper. You can see him doing a workshop on painting mushrooms on the Botanical Illustration blog of the Botanical Art and Illustration at Denver Botanic Gardens.
- Alvaro Nunes - a Brazilian artist with several stunning pieces in the exhibition and book.
- Mariko Imai - a Japanese artist whose painting of a pitcher plant is superb
- Francesca Anderson's beautiful and fine pen and ink drawings of an orchid and a cyclamen. She's a Fellow of the Linnean Society and a Director of both the American Society of Botanical Artists and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens You can see more of her work on this page of the latter's website. She's certainly inspired me to have another go at my pen and ink botanical artwork.
- Coral Guest has a stunning painting of a Lilium Regale at full size - as is usual with Coral - it's not unlike this one - but bigger!
- Helga Crouch who is a founder member of the SBA works in a very effective but understated way and a feeling for seasons. The exhibition includes her study of mistletoe on vellum.
- I always love anything produced by Brigid Edwards or Susannah Blaxill
The Art of Plant Evolution - the book
The Art of Plant Evolution (published by Kew Publishing) is the book produced to accompany the exhibition. It publishes in the USA in February 2010. Authors Dr Shirley Sherwood and Dr W. John Kress of the Smithsonian combine science with botanical art to provide readers with a sense of how contemporary scientific discoveries are changing our understanding of plant relationships. It features illustrations of all the paintings in the exhibition plus a number of very helpful graphical art explanations of plant classifications (eg a tree of plant evolution) which clearly shows current understanding of how different orders of plant families are related.
See my Book Review: The Art of Plant Evolution on Making A Mark Reviews.....
Entry to the exhibition and Gallery is free and included with a ticket to the Gardens. Opening times during the Winter months are detailed below.
Note: The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art - The Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens, opened in Spring 2008 and is the first public gallery in the world dedicated to botanical art. The gallery, designed by leading architects Walters and Cohen, exhibits precious works of art from the collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Dr Shirley Sherwood
- The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew - my information site about Kew Gardens - it makes it easier to find the links to useful information on the Kew website!
- Winter Opening times - 9.30am-4.15pm
- Admission to Kew Gardens includes free entry to all Galleries, Glasshouses, and the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway. Adults £13, Concessions £11, FREE for children under 17 (accompanied by an adult).