Thursday, 24 October 2013
Marianne North: 'A very wild bird'
Born into a wealthy and well connected family, Marianne shared her father's passion for travel and botany and, when she found herself alone and free following his death (in 1869), she decided to indulge them both, along with her new-found love of oil painting - which she described as 'a vice like dram-drinking, almost impossible to leave off once it gets possession of one'. She abhorred marriage - 'a terrible experiment', in her view, that turned women into 'a sort of upper servant' - and disliked company, so most of the time she lived, travelled and painted alone. 'I am a very wild bird,' she declared, 'and like liberty.'
She became a reluctant celebrity in her own lifetime and the crowds flocked to an exhibition of her work in London in 1879 - a success from which she shrank, but which gave her an idea: to give all her paintings as a gift to the Royal Botanical Society at Kew, and to build a gallery at her own expense to display them to the public. The gift was rather reluctantly accepted, and the gallery - a temple-like building in a corner of the Gardens - is still there. It was recently restored, and is quite unlike anything of its kind - indeed Kew claims it is the only gallery devoted to a single female artist, with full public access, anywhere in the UK.
The effect of Miss North's paintings en masse is somewhat concussing - those colours! Her palette was certainly well adapted to the tropics. But then, if she hadn't painted in vivid oils, but in the more usual delicate watercolours, little or nothing of her work would have survived. You can view the gallery online here...