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The Botanical Artists

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker commenting on the disappearing wilderness and the many plant subjects of Marianne North's paintings;

'Very many. . . are already disappearing, or are doomed to disappear, before the axe, and the forest fires, the plough, and the flock, of the ever-advancing settler and colonist. Such scenes can never be renewed by Nature, nor when once effaced can they be pictured to the mind's eye, except by means of such records as these.'

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker  - 1882

Walter Hood FitchBefore cameras were invented there was a need to accurately document the new plants discovered by plant explorers and botanists. While the herbariums, with their dried and pressed specimens were, and still are, the primary method of cataloguing new species, it was also been critical to capture the colours and context of the plant in its natural habitat, and that is where the botanical artists come in.

The term "Botanical Artist' is often considered to be a contradiction in terms by many in the art community - as some tend to suffer the misconception that such work is merely illustration, and not really art at all. The truth is much more complex than that.

Marianne NorthTo work within the strict confines of scientific illustration, yet still capture the subject's 'essence', is a great challenge that only a true artist can meet. The botanical artist may be compared to a master of a Haiku who takes mere words, places them carefully into that restrictive poetic format, and creates a word image clear enough to touch the human psyche. It is that fine balance of technical skill and artistic license that permeates the works of great botanical artists, allowing them to create visual poems juxtiposed between science and art.

Georg Dionysius EhretOf all the many people who have laboured to capture nature's essence for the sake of art and science, a few stand out as masters in their field. And whether they travelled to the ends of the earth themselves, becoming true plant explorers in their own right, or stayed in their studio to capture the images of exotic flora returned by others, their work remains to teach, enlighten, and inspire.

The Botanical Artists

Kew Botanical Gardens


Selected by the SciLinks program, a service of
the National Science Teachers Association.
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