Hugging a Redwood at Kew Gardens
I had my little world rocked the other day on a visit to Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London. It was not the lily pad garden, the Redwood forest, the Treetop Walkway or the 19th century Temperate House filled with rare botanical wonders that blew me away, stunning as it all was. But it was a dip into the Marianne North Gallery tucked away along the southwest edge of the Gardens.
I had never heard of Marianne North, as I suspect many people outside of botanical circles, also have not. She was a Victorian painter of flora and fauna who circled the globe twice by herself, creating over 800 paintings that she left to Kew, which houses the only permanent solo collection of a female painter in Britain. Just to make her a little more impressive, she didn’t start painting until she was 40 years old.
She was born in Hastings, England in 1830 and died in 1890. It is astonishing that she accomplished so much and left such a legacy for a woman of her time period. Any time period, in my opinion. She was, of course, not a woman of lowly means, being the eldest daughter of a prosperous land-owning family. Her father, Frederick North, was a Justice of the Peace and a Liberal MP for Hastings. She looked after both her parents until her mother’s death, then was her father’s constant traveling companion for many years before striking out for her solo voyages around the world. She lived and painted in North America, Brazil, Japan, Tenerife, Borneo, Java, Ceylon, India, Australia, New Zealand, the Seychelles and Chile.
Her paintings are exquisitely beautiful, detailed renderings of landscapes and plant life of exotic lands so untouched and pristine by 21st century standards. Walking through her gallery, which is almost like a floor to ceiling mosaic of all her paintings, gives you a sense of what it must have been like to experience these places in that time period.
Sometimes, occasionally, I feel intrepid as a traveler, but that pales by comparison to Marianne North and the artistic legacy she bestowed upon us.
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actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, life renegade