The Marianne North
Today is the birthday of the intrepid traveler and botanical artist Marianne North who was born on this day in 1830.
Marianne's father was friends with Darwin and Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, who was the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
When she was 25 years old, Marianne's mother died, and she turned to flower painting as a way to cope with her grief. Fifteen years later, right before she became forty, Marianne's father died. By this point, Marianne was an experienced traveler and painter. She had means and autonomy. Marianne decided to spend the rest of her life traveling the globe to find and paint the exotic flowers of the world.
Among her many excursions, Marianne spent a year living in a hut and painting the flowers of the Brazilian forest. She painted the giant redwood trees of California and was heartbroken at their destruction.
It was Marianne North who said,
"It broke one's heart to think of man, the civilizer, wasting treasures in a few years to which savages and animals had done no harm for centuries."
In September 1880, based on the recommendation of her father's great friend Charles Darwin, Marianne visited Australia. As for Marianne, she referred to Darwin as "The greatest man living." Darwin specifically suggested Australia for Marianne because flora and fauna down under were less known and more unique.
Marianne traveled by coach between Brisbane and Sydney, painting at every stop when she lamented, "they never stop where the flowers are!" To make matters worse, the brevity of the overnight stops meant her oil paintings didn't have time to dry completely.
During her visit, Marianne painted a tree that would become known as The Marianne North tree. It was a twisted Karri tree located near Pemberton.
Marianne single-handedly created over 1,000 pieces of flower art. She became a renowned botanical illustrator with several plant species named in her honor; her body of work has been on permanent display at Kew Gardens since 1882.
If you can imagine a gallery of rooms with walls plastered with pieces of art about the size of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, you can envision the impact of standing in the Marianne North Gallery. The 832 paintings represent 20 years of travel over five continents and 17 countries, capturing the scenery and flora in vibrant oil color. The North Gallery was paid for by an endowment from Marianne North.
In 2016, the BBC aired a documentary about Marianne North called Kew's Forgotten Queen.