Wednesday, 16 April 2008
A new gallery for London
This weekend sees the opening of a new art gallery in London, at Kew Gardens. The Shirley Sherwood gallery of Botanical Art will be the world's first, permanent gallery dedicated to this medium, and open all year round.
I've got a very soft spot for this type of art, having studied botany and undertaken some of the work for my Doctorate at Kew itself (though in the Mycological Institute rather than the gardens).
The art is fascinating for me on all sorts of levels. First, the really good art captures the essence of the plant better than any photograph. If that sounds a bit strange, it's because they can be painted without all the extraneous background material, and the various features shown to perfection. It's a sort of hyper-accuracy, if you like. Secondly, many of the illustrations are of huge historical importance, representing as they do a history of scientific endeavour from the 16th century onwards, especially the voyages of discovery in the 'New World'. Who could fail to be moved by the prints made for Sir Joseph Banks of the specimens he found in Australia (including the Banksias, named after himself)? And finally, of course, they are often beautiful works of art in their own right.
The collection of Botanical Art at Kew is, as you'd expect, one of the largest in the world: over 200,000 items include works by some of the recognised masters, such as Redouté (the picture is a reproduction of one of his - his incredible life is worth a blog itself one day). Some of these works are historically important in their own right, and the gallery will have the sort of environmental controls you would expect to maintain them in perfect condition.
But the gallery will also feature more contemporary works as well, many from the collection of Dr Sherwood herself, who has followed the new wave of botanical painters and the renaissance of their art form in modern times and possesses, arguably, the most important private collection of twentieth century botanical art in the world.
The inaugural exhibition begins next week-end, and will run through until October. It will highlight some of the best of both Kew's and Dr Sherwood's collections. You can be assured that I will be visiting it early on!