I got into botanical art because of my mother. The fact that this website exists starts with her.
Every year when I was young, Mummy always ordered an RHS Desk Diary. These had botanical illustrations at periodic intervals throughout the year. We were both intrigued by them and loved the illustrations of flowers, fruit and vegetables- particularly those by Redoute. Every year I looked forward to seeing her new one to see what new pleasures would be inside. Over time, once the diary was finished, plates were removed and inserted into frames and hung on the wall.
She also enjoyed art and I remember artwork she did for her local Women's Institute involving plants from every season. She was also very encouraging about my own artistic endeavours.
Then there was her love of plants and gardening and visiting gardens. As an adult, I lived in London and she continued to live in Cheshire. Most of my visits to her involved very long visits to plant centres, planting the garden and even longer visits to various gardens near her home in Cheshire. Latterly, as we both became less mobile together, we became very appreciative of gardens on the level - and rollators!
Nowadays I'm rather less mobile and mother (in her late seventies) is even less so. For those who like visiting gardens but have difficulty walking, Tatton is an excellent place to visit as it provides electric wheelchairs of the sort you see many older people now using to do their shopping. Mother whizzed around gravel paths and on and off grassy banks in one - she even managed the steep slope at the side of the Italian gardens! Fortunately I managed to persuade her to sharpen all my pencils for me before she started getting too ambitious!
I liked the way she always called plants by their correct Latin names and I now wander around gardens and identify plants as I go with names which just pop into my head. My knowledge of most of them can only come from listening to her over very many years.
As she became older and more arthritic, we devised new ways to garden at her home to take account of her mobility. I ran around uprooting weeds, pruning and generally licking the garden into better shape while she she sat in one spot filling the garden rubbish bin and making me cups of tea!
I saw her in June and spent some of my time moving all her big plant pots around so she had the best view of all the plants which were blooming just beyond the huge sliding windows which provided her with such an excellent view of her garden.
(She was tickled pink when my sketch of her garden (see below) was given the double page spread introducing section 2 "Deciding what to draw" in my book about sketching!)
The 10 most popular botanical artists and botanical illustrators from the past - with dedicated pages on my website - are ranked and listed below.
To date the 18th and 20th centuries are doing very well. The spread across the centuries is as follows:
It's very interesting that the top three female botanical artists are all people that I would think of as being part of the great "exploration" heritage of botanical art. They used their own initiative to decide where to go, what to paint and how to present it in terms of contemporary ways of exhibiting and publicising their work.
Some food for thought maybe as people compile their "to do" lists for next year?
Links to the dedicated web pages for each artist are embedded in the names of the botanical artists listed below. The ranked order is based on the Google Analytics data for my website for the last four years.
1. Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 - 1717)
Her popularity is, in part, influenced by all the events and celebrations of her life generated by the 300th anniversary of her death in 2017. There was a lot of interest in her life during that period - and since.
2. Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759 - 1840)
Probably one of the most popular botanical artists with the general public. Due in no small part to the considerable reproduction of his paintings for wall decorations. However his achievements in terms of "series" paintings were considerable and varied - particularly Les Liliacees (1802 - 15) and Les Roses (1817 - 21). He also has the unique distinction of painting on commission for both Queen Marie Antoinette and the Empress Josephine Bonaparte!
3. Margaret Mee (1909 - 1998)
A lot of her paintings of plants in the Amazon Rainforest were exhibited in the "Brazil - a Powerhouse of Plants" exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens in 2016. Her focus on the destruction of the Amazon rainforest has also seen her much referenced in recent times
4. Marianne North (1830 - 1890)
There are not many artists who can say they've travelled to and painted plants in
5. Rory McEwen (1932 - 1982)
Probably the best known and most popular of more recent contemporary artists. As 'The Colours of Reality' Retrospective Exhibition in 2013 at Kew demonstrated, this is an artist who has been a considerable influence on many of the most talented leading botanical artists of today
6. Elizabeth Blackwell (1707 - 1758)
A lady botanical artist with a fascinating backstory who painted plants growing in the Chelsea Physic Garden. Blackwell compiled and published her hand drawn, engraved and coloured "A Curious Herbal" (1737-1739) in order to raise funds to free her husband from debtors prison.
7. Sydney Parkinson (1745 - 1771)
The botanical artist who sailed on the Endeavour, with Captain Cook, to South America, Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia - and died on the way back. He's well known in connection to the development of his drawings and paintings for Banks Florilegium.
8. Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770)
The leading botanical artist in Europe in 1750! This German born artist was a prodigious artist who produced an enormous number of high quality illustrations on commission for various botanical publications and plant collectors. He was one of the most influential botanical artists of all time due to his development of the Linnaean style of botanical illustration. He is also one of my favourites!
9. Arthur Harry Church (1865-1937)
A botanist who focused on the morphology and structure of plants and began to illustrate to demonstrate his findings. He has since earned a reputation as a scientific botanical illustrator of note.
10. Pandora Sellars (1936 - 2017)
The youngest of the botanical artists in this list and the one who died most recently. She is widely considered to be a contemporary equivalent to the botanical masters of the past and one of the top botanical painters of all time. Botanical Theatre: The Art of Pandora Sellars (1936-2017) - a retrospective exhibition of her paintings on display at Kew demonstrated that for those who were fortunate enough to be able to visit and see her work
Tomorrow - for the last blog post of the decade, I'll be reviewing the Top 20 Pages on my Botanical Art & Artists website based on the number of pageviews they've enjoyed since they were created.
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