The Radical Victorian Lady behind an Essential Collection of Botanical Art

The Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens in London, England, is the only permanent solo exhibition of a female artist’s works in the Great Britain. It contains 833 botanical paintings and 246 specimens of wood from all over the world. The exhibit opened in 1882. It was designed by North herself, and the works remain today as she placed them.

Marianne North was an extraordinary woman who avoided marriage and loved to travel, but preferred to travel alone. When she discovered how much she loved painting at the age of 38, she decided to paint species of the world, right where they grew. And that she did, for the rest of her life. She lived and worked in six continents and produced over 1,000 pieces of art.   

North’s legacy was clear even in her own time. Sir Hooker proclaimed her collection to be an important record of soon-to-be extinct species, and Charles Darwin, a family friend, requested she document the flora of Australia, New Zealand, and Tanzania to fill out her collection (which she did, despite her failing health). Though her lifestyle was controversial in her time, her work continues to be one of the world’s most important collections of historic botanical art. Four species are named in her honor.

You can read about North’s life and see more of her art at Atlas Obscura.

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