Jessica Tcherepnine GM was generally regarded as an outstanding botanical artist. She passed away, age 80, after a long illness on New Year's Eve.
'Her work is intense as well as being decorative and scientifically accurate"
Jessica Elizabeth Tcherepnine was English by birth but lived in the USA for 55 years.
She was born on 4th May 1938 in Sussex and was the daughter of William Barclay Harris and Elizabeth Milnes Coates. However she had lived and worked in New York for the last 50+ years. She met Peter Tcherepnine in New York and married him in 1973. They lived in their Manhattan apartment and their farm near Millbrook, NY, where she had her garden.
In terms of career, she started work at Christie's in London in the Furniture Department. She then moved to Christies in New York and worked with John Richardson. Latterly she worked mainly for its Oriental Department.
In 1982, she left Christies to start painting. In fact, she started painting flowers at her home in Sussex at a very young age. She was essentially self-taught, although her art education did include four months studying drawing in Florence under Signora Simi (1890-1987).
Her garden provided her with specimens for some of her watercolour paintings. Other paintings of exotic tropical plants were developed as a result of multiple visits to the island of Nevis in the West Indies.
Her artistic practice
Fortunately due to a couple of articles we have the artist's voice to speak as to her practice and approach to botanical art.
'So many of us, the botanical artists in every country, are self-taught,'' she adds. ''I was. I'm always looking down and up, for bark and dead leaves, as well as flowers. It's the shape and the color you look for. You paint what is, but you are allowed to choose the elements, the curved stem, the most interesting arrangement of petals.'' Timing is also a challenge in botanical art. As Tcherepnine says: ''I paint the flower, which is going to die first, and then I add the rest. Bud, full flower and the moment it goes off. I like that moment.'
“I paint differently from many other people. I don’t draw first on tracing paper - I draw right on the watercolor paper. Sometimes that works better than other times – you have to be very careful! That is why observation is so important. Before I start, that blank sheet of paper can be very daunting, so I have to know my subject well. I have an idea of the whole look of the composition and I really build it up as I go. If I were doing a magnolia, I might start with the bud, either at the top or bottom of the page. I draw it lightly with pencil and then try to paint it in that day. As every botanical artist knows, the flowers and leaves change so fast. Then I will paint a flower just coming out, then a full flower, then the leaves and twigs. It can be tricky to be botanically correct, for instance to get the leaves coming out in the right place. I used to be able to paint for hours on end, but now I can only do three or four hours at a time; after that, I worry that I might start to make mistakes.”
Awards: She was a Double RHS Gold Medal Winner
Articles about her botanical art:
Societies and Florilegia: She was:
An exceptional botanical artist, a pioneer of the field in the United States and beyond, and one of the four original ASBA board members, Jessica passed away at the age of 80 on December 31, 2018. Her warmth, generosity, and wise counsel made her a dear friend to many of us. She supported the field of botanical art in many ways, one of which was to originate the fruitful twenty-year collaboration between the Horticultural Society of New York and ASBA.
Collections that include her work
Her paintings are also in various prestigious collections
Jessica Tcherepnine: b. 1938 in Sussex, UK. d. 31 December 2018 New York., USA
No dates have been set for memorial services.
Donations may be made in her honor to The New York Horticultural Society, 148 West 37th Street #13, New York, NY 10018.
I met Jessica Tcherepnine once - at the Artists’ PV for the 25th anniversary exhibition of the Shirley Sherwood Collection at Jonathan Cooper's Park Walk Gallery in Chelsea - where I took the photo at the top of this post.
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