Marianne North: an unsung pioneer of botanical art

More than 800 remarkable paintings cover the walls of the Marianne North Gallery. But who was she and why did her art matter?

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Marianne North Gallery by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The incredible life of Marianne North

Marianne North captured the world in her paintings. She left behind an incredible collection of botanical art.  

From Californian redwoods to pitcher plants in Borneo, she painted plants great and small across the globe. 

Marianne North doing what she did best - painting by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Not a traditional Victorian woman

Victorian women usually travelled with a husband or male chaperone. Between 1871 and 1885, Marianne travelled extensively, almost always on her own. She visited 15 countries, from Brazil to India, because of the links afforded by the British Empire at that time.

The paintings of Marianne North by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

A virtual tour

Marianne North Gallery by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Watercolour versus oil paintings

Marianne defied the conventions of her times in more ways than one. Botanical artists used watercolour to depict plants in a life-like way. Marianne bucked the trend. She used oil paints which gave her paintings more vibrancy and impact.

Marianne North Gallery by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Her work made her popular and accounts of her journeys abroad were published in the newspapers. She didn't have formal training yet scientists, including Charles Darwin, admired her work.  

Marianne North Gallery by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

She painted plants in their natural settings. Animals, temples and people can be seen in her paintings. This style gives the viewer a sense of the habitats in which different plants grow. 

Marianne North Gallery by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Her paintings were a vibrant glimpse of countries that many people in Europe had never seen before. She commissioned the gallery in 1879. 

Capturing the life of Marianne North by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

A world in paintings

Marianne North Gallery (2019) by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The gallery opened its doors to visitors in 1882.  Over 800 of Marianne’s paintings closely line the walls of this incredible gallery in a permanent exhibition.   

The gallery is a celebration of nature and the adventures of a rather special Victorian globe trotter.

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