Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Kew's Heritage Trees - paintings by Masumi Yamanaka

I've been trying to get to see Kew's Heritage Trees - paintings by Masumi Yamanaka for quite some time! Yesterday I announced to my other half that visiting the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art was the first place I wanted to go on our visit yesterday to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

View of the main gallery and some of Masumi Yamanaka's paintings
Display boxes contained other drawings, paintings and books about trees in the Kew Collection

Armand's  White Pine (Chinese White Pine) and Masumi Yamanaka
- this excellent botanical painting is now in the private collection of
Martyn Rix, Editor of Curtis's Botanical Magazine who contributed the tree descriptions to the book about the exhibition
The Gallery currently has three exhibitions on display - although this is not obvious from the "what's on" on the Kew website.  The final day of the exhibitions is 9th August.

They are:
  • Kew's Heritage Trees (Galleries 1 and 5) - paintings by Masumi Yamanaka
  • Flowering Bulbs and Tubers (Galleries 2, 3 and 4) - an exhibition of paintings for sale by the Dutch Society of Botanical Artists
  • The Joy of Spring (Gallery 6 Paintings from the Shirley Sherwood Collection)
I have no idea why the other two exhibitions are not identified as exhibitions to visit on the Kew Gardens website. However the Kew Gardens website is not easy to navigate and frequently omits information for visitors. I can't work out why this is but it's extremely unhelpful to the fans of botanical art and this is a gallery that gets a lot of visitors!

Below you'll find
  • a review of Kew's Heritage Trees and there will be another post later in the week about the other two exhibitions
  • 10 facts about Masumi Yamanaka
  • a big innovation associated with this exhibition!

Review of 'Kew's Heritage Trees'

This exhibition focuses on what are known as the Heritage Trees and include paintings of the trees known as the "Old Lions" which have been living at Kew for over 250 years.

Any regular visiter to Kew will know that the gardens include some really  wonderful trees - some of which are very large, some of which are very old and some of which are both!

I know I spend time when visiting Kew enjoying seeing the old and big trees at different stages of their annual life cycle.  I've taken more than a few photographs of most of them over the years in part because Kew is somewhere where trees can grow to their full potential and they are simply stunning!

Below is a map of the trees that have been painted and are included in the exhibition.

Location of the Heritage Trees
The majority are related to the location of the Old Arboretum between the Orangery and the Palm House
There is no guide to the Arboretum - and how trees are grouped across the site - or a map of the old trees on the website.
There have been some drawings of the trees done in the past but no one artist has ever attempted to do all the trees as a collection.

Masumi Yamanaka works on a freelance basis at Kew - an "Artist in Residence" - and had felt for some time that the old and treasured trees at Kew needed to be drawn and painted as well as photographed.

Masumi's interest in the trees started when she painted the Indian Bean tree for a portfolio of nine works exhibited at the RHS Botanical Art Show in 2010 - for which she won a gold medal.  I particularly enjoyed this series - it's one which certainly ought to be studied by all those aspiring to a gold medal!

A series of paintings of Indian Horse Chestnut Aesculus Indica 
She started to paint more of the heritage trees after this project and it's taken her five years to develop the portfolio she has created and which is now on display.  Fortunately she managed to capture some of the trees before the big storm in 2013 which damaged a lot of the trees at Kew - including the heritage trees.

It's important to note this was not a commission - this was an initiative by Masumi.
MY TIP for botanical artists:  When thinking about what to do for a project why not try something nobody has done before - which also has links to the historical or iconic or both?
Not all the paintings are of the full tree although there are some significant paintings of the shapes of some of them. Other paintings focus on the shapes of leaves and seeds and/or cones - which are beautifully painted.  In total they make a very worthwhile collection.

I found the paintings of some of the pines to be quite breathtaking. I also love the fact that as a result of the exhibition I now understand much more about the trees and know more about what I'm looking at on my regular visits to Kew. Plus where to find all the heritage trees - I do hope they put that map on the website!

Initially Masumi asked whether she could do an exhibition of her paintings in one of the side galleries. However after Kew saw what she had produced - she's now done 40 paintings - they decided that she could have the main gallery for the exhibition!

View of the exhibition in the main gallery of the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
This is a video about the exhibition

Find out more about the trees and the paintings

The book of the exhibition
I was very fortunate yesterday as

Masumi walked into the exhibition while I was there

However you can:
  • find out more about the trees on the website:
    • Kew's Heritage Trees is a blog post which describes the development of the collection and shows some of  the paintings next to photographs of the originals.
    • This blog post - Celebrating the tree - tells us more about some of the artwork from the archives in the existing Kew Art Collection.
  • Masumi will also be doing a guide to the exhibition tomorrow on Thursday 23rd July between 2pm and 3pm.
  • The exhibition is rounded off with a publication called 'Treasured Trees' published by Kew.  It includes colour plates of the 40 paintings in the exhibition plus a detailed description of each tree and how it came to be included in the Arboretum at Kew. The tree descriptions are written by Martin Rix, Editor of Curtis's Botanical Magazine and the Introduction was written by Christina Harrison, Editor of the Kew Magazine. Read more about it.

10 Facts about Masumi Yamanaka

Masumi Yamanaka with her painting of the Stone Pine - planted in 1846
Since she painted it it has lost three major branches in a big storm in 2013 - proving the worth of painting the tree.

  1. Masumi Yamanaka was born in Japan in 1957 but has lived in London for the last 26 years
  2. The earlier part of her career involved working as a designer for ceramic manufacturers and retailers 
  3. She studied botanical art with Pandora Sellars who is a professional botanical painter and illustrator contributing to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine
  4. Her illustration of a Hippeastrum won the SBA's Margaret Grainger Memorial Silver Bowl, is included in the SBA Book 'The Botanical Palette' and now forms part of the Kew Art Collection.
  5. Masumi's botanical artwork has been exhibited in four previous exhibitions Kew’s Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art:
    1. Trees’ (Winter 2009)
    2. Bulbmania’ (Summer 2010) 
    3. Kew Artists’ (Spring 2011) 
    4. Inspiring Kew’ (2014).
  6. Masumi won an RHS Gold Medal in 2010 for her illustrations of Aesculus indica ‘Sydney Pearce’, illustrated from the specimen at Kew. (Note: The exhibition includes the nine paintings exhibited at the RHS)
  7. Her drawings and paintings are held in the collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and private collections throughout the world. 
  8. She is the Japanese Exhibition Coordinator for the forthcoming exhibition ‘Flora Japonica’ which will be held at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art in 2016. 
  9. Masumi has been a freelance artist based in the Herbarium since 2007.
  10. The paintings of the Heritage Trees were done on her initiative. She feels it's important that they should become part of the Kew Collection - especially as some

Sponsor one of the paintings

One of the innovations with this exhibition is definitely worth talking about.

This is the new notion that people can be invited to sponsor a botanical illustration.
Each piece depicts one of Kew’s most significant trees and epitomises the living collections here at Kew. We would like to add as many of these pictures to Kew’s art collection as we can. Unfortunately, our current funding will not allow us to purchase more than two of these pieces. So there is a real danger most will be lost to Kew forever. These paintings are a living record of the history of Kew’s Heritage Trees and with this in mind, we have launched a fund to help us to purchase these important pieces, and keep them at Kew.
Masumi can sell these paintings - she wasn't commissioned to do them. On the one hand her income has been limited by the time given over to undertaking this project so it would be great if she could sell some.  On the other hand, she feels strongly that the paintings should form part of the Kew Art Collection given the iconic nature of the trees which they portray.  However Kew's funding has been cut and can only afford to buy two........

The idea of sponsorship is that a third party - a supporter of Kew and its art collection - pays the not unreasonable prices asked - and the piece is then added to the Art Collection at Kew.

What you get as a sponsor is a certificate, a high resolution print of the painting and an invitation to an event to meet the artist. Plus your name goes on the exhibition label for the painting every time it is exhibited anywhere in the world.....

I've uploaded the Sponsorship Leaflet to the UK Exhibitions Page of my Botanical Art and Artists website - and you can read more about it there.

I know I want my Executors to secure a bench at Kew in my memory when I go - but maybe it's time to think about sponsoring a painting instead?
Why not sponsor one as a gift to celebrate a special birthday, anniversary or event or to commemorate the life of a loved one?
I think both Kew and Masumi are also hoping that in due course international sponsors might want to try and get the exhibition overseas. It's certainly well worth it - I've never seen another exhibition quite like it.

PS. The next new exhibition at the Gallery will open on 29 August 2015.  I've put in my diary!

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