A Woman to Know: Marianne North

I am a very wild bird. — Marianne

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

After touring the world with her father, British political icon Frederick North, Marianne decided it was time for a voyage of her own. She had no artistic training and zero formal education in botany; but she loved plants, she loved painting and dammit, she was done with the confines of Victorian society.

Her travels with her father meant that she knew every embassy and home port in the New World. So, she hatched a plan: in 1871, at the age of 41, Marianne set sail for Brazil. There, she began documenting the emerging flora and as-yet-undiscovered ecosystems of the Amazonian rainforest. She befriended Charles Darwin and other famed naturalists, and they were astounded at the scientific accuracy of her illustrations. Soon, they were commissioning multiple plates for their research: carnivorous plants, vibrant tree canopies, trellising vines, nighttime blooms and more. Her scientific illustration career was solidified in India, where she would spend hours with her easel in the middle of the jungle.

After her death, Marianne donated the entirety of her collection to the Kew Gardens in England, where her work is still shown today. In fact, within the glassed cases and folding shadowboxes, Kew Gardens claims Marianne's paintings are "the only permanent solo exhibition by a female artist" displayed in all of Britain.

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