Margaret Mee - her life and work
Childhood: Margaret Ursula Mee was born on 22 May 1909 in Whitehill, Chesham - in the Chiltern Hills area of Buckinghamshire. She grew up there and was known to her family and friends as Peggy.
Her aunt, Ellen Mary Churchman was an illustrator of children's books and encourage the young Peggy to develop her artistic talents as an artist.
Education & Training: She attended:
After WW2, she she enrolled as an evening student at St Martin's School of Art, Westminster. Subsequently in 1947 she attended at the Camberwell School of Art (1947-49) where she was taught by Victor Passmore. She earned a National Diploma in Painting and Design.
Early Life and First Marriage:
Her early life was very much involved with political causes relating to fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, supporting the Spanish Civil War and the fight against Fascism,
Second Husband and A Life in Brazil:
She met her second husband Greville Mee at St. Martin's School of Art in London. She changed her name by deed poll to Mee in 1952. They married in 1980.
Age 42, she moved with Greville Mee to Brazil in November 1951. Initially she taught art at St Paul's, the British School in Sao Paulo.
The two of them began to explore the country on various expeditions and she decided to start painting plant portraits - and became a botanical artist. (see below for further details).
She also found and recorded new plants which are now named after her. (see below)
Her other claim to fame is that she was one of the first people interested in environmental issues who highlighted the impact of large-scale mining and deforestation on the Amazon Basin. She won the acclaim and support of many other environmentalists.
1975: honorary citizenship of Rio,
1976: MBE for services to Brazilian botany
1979: the Brazilian order of Cruzeiro do Sul (Order of the Southern Cross)
1986: Fellowship of the Linnean Society
Return to England
Margaret and Greville returned to England in November 1988 for a major exhibition of her paintings at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew coupled with the launch of a book Margaret Mee in Search of Flowers of the Amazon Forest (1988) based on Margaret's diaries,
Very sadly, Margaret Mee died as a result of a car crash in Leicester on 30th November 1988. A memorial service was held at Kew on 16 January 1989. Those attending included representatives of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Brazilian government, and the world of botany.
Her legacy includes
For 30 years, Mrs. Mee devoted her life to traveling up the Amazon River and its various tributaries. She would head up river into a small boat by herself, with only a local pilot for companionship, occasionally with a friend or two. Mrs. Mee was not simply a traveler and explorer of new places; she was a painter who tried to create a unique record of the rare species of flowers of the Amazon Basin before they disappear under the onslaught of man. Her work has been compared to some of the masters at painting from nature.
an interview with the artist that was broadcast on the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour in November 1988
Age 47 she started to explore the Amazon where she studied and painted the plants and flowers of the Amazon rainforest for the next 30 years.
Between 1956 and 1988, she made 15 expeditions to the Amazon. Her intention was to record rare Brazilian plants. She specialised in painting orchids and bromeliads.
It's notable that a number of the species she painted had not been recorded before. Nine plants recorded in paint by Mee were previously unknown to science - and they are now named after her.
She was commissioned to illustrate the Flora Brasilica. This was very ambitious project to catalogue and illustrate the plants of Brasil. This involved working expeditions to various parts of Brazil.
Mee learned to live with the forest and its plants, animals and people. She learned a lot from the Indians about the trees and plants which she then painted.
She is also well known for support of conservation. Besides her paintings, one of her lasting and hugely important contributions to conservation is that she alerted people to the exploitation and destruction of the Amazon rain forest in the 1970-70s due to the development of the Trans-Amazon Highway.
Her expeditions to the Amazon
In Search of Flowers of the Amazon Forests
by Margaret Mee | Edited by Tony Morrison
Publisher: Nonesuch Expeditions;
FIRST EDITION (1988)
Includes 134 colored paintings and sketches of over 100 species of Amazon plants.
BUY IN UK In Search of Flowers of the Amazon Forest from Amazon UK
BUY IN USA In Search of Flowers of the Amazon Forest by Margaret Mee (1988-11-07) from Amazon.com
Margaret Mee's Amazon - Diaries of an Artist Explorer
Hardcover: 320 pages (Dimensions: 24.7 x 3.1 x 30.6 cm)
Publisher: ACC Art Books;
Ist Edition published: 1 Jan. 2004
Rated an average of 5 stars by 8 customer reviews (USA)
Buy in UK: Margaret Mee's Amazon: The Diaries of an Artist Explorer from Amazon UK
Buy in USA: Margaret Mee's Amazon: The Diaries of an Artist Explorer from Amazon.com
In the early stages an extraordinary sweet perfume wafted from the flower, and we were all transfixed by the beauty of the delicate and unexpectedly large bloom ... Our vigil was long and I conclude that our intrusion had deterred the pollinator, upsetting the delicate balance between the plant and the animal which has taken tens of millions of years to evolve ... With the dawn the flower closed and we watched fascinated and humbled by the experience.
Flowers of the Amazon Forests - the Botanical Art of Margaret Mee
Hardcover: 167 pages
200 colour illustrations
(Dimensions: 24.8 x 2.1 x 31.2 cm)
Publisher: Natural Wonders Press (1 Aug. 2006)
"Unlike Amazon botanical artists before her, Margaret worked entirely from living plants. Her fifteen expeditions into the interior, mostly to Amazonia, involved travelling and living under the most primitive conditions. She would draw at night by torchlight to capture rare nocturnal flowers, and this immediacy gave her paintings an accuracy, depth, and colour unrivalled by her predecessors. Her travels coincided with the beginning of the commercial exploitation of the forest, and she expressed her fury at the damage caused to the land and its peoples" ODNB
Her first expedition to the Amazon was in 1956. She continued to travel throughout the wildest parts of Amazonia for the next 30+ years and produced paintings of the flora she found.
Shortly after her first exhibition she became a botanical illustrator at the Instituto de Botanica de Sao Paulo. Much of her work recording the flora of Brazil on behalf of the Institute remain remains in the archives of this Institute.
Prior to her death she developed a collection of her excellent examples of her works which she called "The Amazon Collection". Initially, the paintings were exhibited at the Missouri Botanical Garden who then also stored them for a period. Eventually they were purchased by the Margaret Mee Amazon Trust and archived at Kew Gardens.
She preferred to sell her works privately.
You can see reproductions of her work on the following sites
You can also see reproduction prints at
Mee had 'proper' art training at art school. She adopted a number of approaches to painting her botanical specimens
The Flowering Amazon Margaret Mee Paintings from the Royal Botanic Gardens,Kew
by Ruth L. A. Stiff (Author), Margaret Mee (Illustrator)
This is the book of paintings by Margaret Mee in the Kew Collection which was published to accompany the travelling exhibition of her work that visited the USA in 2004 and 2005. It includes
Paperback: 80 pages (Dimensions: 1.3 x 22.2 x 28.6 cm)
Publisher: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (1 May 2004)
"...they are splendid, magnificently composed, superbly reproduced... can stand without shame in the high company of such eighteenth-century masters as Georg Dionysius Ehret and Redoute"
Exhibition in UK and USA
In 1960, she exhibited her paintings at the Royal Horticultural Society Botanical Art Show in London where she received the Grenfell medal. After this she was able to work as a freelance artist.
In 1964 she exhibited her paintings in Washington.
Flowers of the Brazilian Forests
Venue: The Tryon Gallery, London
Date: January 1968
Exhibition and launch of the first major publication of paintings of Amazon plants in a book called Flowers of the Brazilian Forest, Collected and Painted by Margaret Mee (1968). This was a folio edition of thirty-one paintings.
Flowers of the Amazon: Watercolours by Margaret Mee.
58 paintings - painted for her second books Flores des Amazonas - Flowers of the Amazon.
Exhibitions in Brazil
In 1958, she had her first exhibition of 25 botanical paintings - in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. This exhibition began to establish her reputation as a botanical artist
In 1964 she exhibited her paintings in São Paulo
Exhibition in UK and USA: 2000-2010
The Flowering Amazon: Margaret Mee Paintings from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Dates: 2004-2006 - a two year tour around the USA to:
Hunt Institute of Botanical Documentation
Exhibitions in Brazil (2011)
Margaret Mee: 100 Anos de Vida e Obra | Margaret Mee 100 Years of Life and Work
Venue: Brazil: National Museum of the Republic 2, Esplanada dos Ministérios, Brasilia
It also toured to other cities in Brazil.
Dates: (May 6 to June 5, 2011 )
The exhibition commemorated the 100th anniversary of her birth. The exhibition was curated by Sylvia de Bottom Brautigan. It included
Brazil: a powerhouse of plants – Margaret Mee, pioneering artist and her legacy
Venue: Shirley Sherwood gallery of Botanical Art, Kew Gardens
Dates: 20 February 2016 to 29 August 2016, 10am to 5pm
This exhibition explored the diversity of Brazil’s magnificent flora. It contained paintings from
The exhibition also included :
The Margaret Mee Amazon Trust was founded in 1988 following discussions with Margaret and Greville Mee concerning the future of the magnificent Amazon Collection: 60 paintings of Amazonian plants by Margaret Mee. The MMAT was an educational charity dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of the conservation of Brazil's forests, especially in Amazonia. The Trust was based in the UK and its immediate objectives were to raise funds for i) the purchase of the Amazon Collection for deposit at Kew, and ii) the creation of a scholarship scheme, aimed at supporting forest conservation
Kew Gardens - The Margaret Mee Fellowship Programme
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