Monday 5 May 2014
The early May Bank Holiday, the sun shining brightly, the Overground working in the West, so what could be better than a trip to Kew? The gardens were looking ravishing, but I am not about to tell you about the azaleas, the bluebells, the students' vegetable beds.
Andrew and I did not think we had ever visited the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanic Art, so we did so today. It is housed in a clean looking modern building and is free to enter (after you have paid to get into Kew Gardens, of course). The displays are of paintings and drawings of botanic specimens, some accurate and scientifically detailed, some artistically arranged. Many of them were so beautiful that they would sit happily on a domestic wall. Though watercolour and paper are what we were expecting, some artists use oils on canvas. They ranged in period from quite old (after all, botanical drawing is a very ancient art form) to very recent, including several from an exhibition in Pisa, by Italian artists of the present day. According to London Town website, the Collection has more than 200,000 pieces of work in it: we enjoyed the few dozen which were on display.
Attached to this exhibition is the even more remarkable Marianne North Gallery. It has a slightly 'Pitt Rivers' feel to it (if you have visited that Oxford Museum) in that every wall is covered with her botanical and scenery art works. She was a 19th century biologist, who knew Charles Darwin, and travelled widely. She recorded what she saw and the plants she discovered, as she travelled around the world. Her works include flora all the way from California to Borneo and she spent a year in India too. Then Darwin suggested she should make a further journey to Australia and New Zealand. She always planned to leave her collection to Kew, and did so, before her death in 1890, aged only 60. She had the advantage of coming from a prosperous family, but that fact does not make her any less intrepid or talented.
There is so much to see at Kew that I did not think Mary and Linda would mind my visiting these charming galleries without them. If they do, I shall be only too happy to go back again.