Welcome to the first in a new series of blog posts which will be covering one of my Art Hero’s featured each month. As with anyone creative or even slightly curious there are many sources of inspiration which shape our daily views. For me personally, over the years there have been many influences. Most recently the people that have provoked my thoughts or shaken up the way in which I work have come from a wide genre of creatives and spacial makers.
I thought it was high time I shared some of the stories from these fascinating people, through books I have read places I have visited and in many cases the artwork. I hope you enjoy my #ArtHeros and I will include some links each month, so if you feel enthused by my posts please do go and have a click on these.
For many years on discovery of people finding out that I am a Botanical Illustrator a name that has often cropped up into conversation has been that of Marianne North. Quite possibly one of the better known female Artists of the Victorian era, perhaps not just for the prolific amount of paintings she produced but also of the expeditions she undertook.
The makings of a legacy
On the 24th October 1830, Marianne North was born in Hastings, into a wealthy upperclass family. From the outset forming strong bonds with her Father, Frederick North. As common place to many families of this time, Marianne was introduced to travelling from an early age. In the beginning it would have been a regular trip, to travel to and from town to country houses. With the wealthier families owning more than one Estate. Enthused by the smaller adventures her Father took her on deepened their relationship and their passion for the wider world. Over the years the locations of their travels took them all over Europe, and she seemed almost more suited to this kind of existence, as to the stuffy more formal way of life at home.
Showing talent for art and music, Marianne was known to spend literally hours on end practicing to almost manic proportions. Which as it turned out would be a pattern that would follow her for the rest of her life. As in anyones life, recalling the events that take place over the years, the stories unfold and set what later becomes the forming of our own unique existence. Looking at her special relationship with her Father it went quite beyond the usual, to the point where Frederick became her only friend and companion. Sadly in 1869 Mariannes father passed away, and quite understandably with their extremely close connection, she slipped into a long and painful period of grief.
Whilst her father was alive, they had many visits to Kew Gardens. On one particular trip Marianne was presented with a rather beautiful bunch of tropical flowers. The Amherstia nobilis, which at this time was the very first to flower in England. Kew Gardens would have held exquisite collections of exotic flowers and would have been an enchanting place to visit and experience just a taster of amazing plants growing in other countries. It is hard to imagine living in England in the Victorian period as a woman, the confines that must have been felt by those with a curiosity for travel and passion for art.
During 1871 and 1885 Marianne North pulled herself away from England and embarked on many expeditions worldwide. Travelling independently and painting prolifically everywhere she visited a vast collection of paintings were stacking up. Each time she returned to England, a restless notion would consume her and she would feel the need to go overseas again. In just 14 years she visited no less than 15 countries, travelling alone far and wide.
Miss Norths Gallery at Kew Gardens
Whilst travelling and painting Marianne also found the time to offer Sir Joseph Hooker of Kew Gardens a very special opportunity to house her botanical paintings in a purpose designed and built gallery. Located in the quieter part of the Gardens at Kew, Marianne envisaged a unique space to encapsulate all the wonders of her travels. Even to the very last detail of framing, and ordering of her paintings were carefully curated over the years to come.
Seeking solace in artistic expeditions
I find beyond the staggering amount of artwork Marianne North produced on these expeditions the travels alone as a woman must have been a phenomenal feat. Taking herself on these extraordinary trips and painting at such a rate to try and overcome the grief of her father. Whilst in some respects, extreme, finding solace in her activities and pushing boundaries far beyond, has made her legacy what it is today.
Unfortunately as you would expect, it eventually lead to a breakdown. Her health declined, which forced the days of travelling to come to an end. On her return to England she found peace and settled into her new home with a less adventurous life. Writing memoirs made from her old travel journals and absorbing her time in the garden, she once again found happiness.
Visiting Kew Gardens
Marianne Norths Gallery still stands today in Kew Gardens, holding a collection of 832 paintings. Since the very first Private View on the 7th June 1882, it remains the finest series of Botanical paintings to be accomplished by any single artist in the world.
Further reading, I can recommend, Marianne North, A Very Intrepid Painter, by Michelle Payne.