Tree-lined streets in Singapore inspired botanical artist

Reproductions of botanical artist Marianne North's Lane Near Singapore (above) and Foliage And Flowers Of A Madagascar Tree At Singapore (below) are among the pieces featured.
Reproductions of botanical artist Marianne North's Lane Near Singapore (above) and Foliage And Flowers Of A Madagascar Tree At Singapore are among the pieces featured.PHOTO: THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW & SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS ARCHIVES
Reproductions of botanical artist Marianne North's Lane Near Singapore (above) and Foliage And Flowers Of A Madagascar Tree At Singapore (below) are among the pieces featured.
Reproductions of botanical artist Marianne North's Lane Near Singapore and Foliage And Flowers Of A Madagascar Tree At Singapore (above) are among the pieces featured.PHOTO: THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW & SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS ARCHIVES

Travel back in time with botanical artist Marianne North's artworks depicting the world's greenery, including Singapore's in the 1870s

In the 1870s when prolific English botanical artist Marianne North came to Singapore, she was fascinated with the wild jungle that thrived on the island.

She captured some of the greenery she saw here in two oil paintings - one of a lane lined with towering nutmeg and cananga trees, and the other of the green foliage and bright red flowers on a Madagascar tree.

These are just two paintings in the portfolio of the celebrated artist, who travelled around the world to countries such as Brazil, Spain, Japan and South Africa, prolifically documenting plants and flowers with a paintbrush.

Her 833 works are displayed in an art gallery named after her in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - the famed attraction in south-west London that is also known as Kew Gardens.

Now, Singaporeans can see reproductions of her botanical artworks in an exhibition at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. A total of 186 works, including the two she painted during her time in Singapore, are on show.

The exhibition, which runs till Nov 26, also showcases North's travel writings from her autobiography, Recollections Of A Happy Life.

  • VIEW IT /MARIANNE NORTH: AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE EXHIBITION

  • WHERE: CDL Green Gallery, 1 Cluny Road

    WHEN: Till Nov 26, 9am to 6pm daily. The exhibition is closed on the last Tuesday of the month.

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: There are free monthly guided tours on the fourth Saturday of each month at 11am. Register at the Singapore Botanic Gardens Visitor Services Counter at Tanglin Gate 15 minutes before the tour starts. There is a cap of 20 people. For more information, go to bit.ly/2vCQlX7

The idea for the exhibition was sparked when Kew Gardens gave the Singapore Botanic Gardens a set of facsimiles of her South-east Asia-related paintings in 2015, says Dr Nigel Taylor, 61, group director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The paintings were digitally printed and then mounted on wood for the exhibition. And much like how her original works are displayed in the Kew Gardens gallery, the reproductions, which come in various sizes and lengths, are hung close to one another.

The exhibition also throws the spotlight on the colourful life of an adventurous traveller who defied social conventions.

Born in Victorian England in 1830, North did not have formal artistic training and took only a few drawing lessons as a child. She started oil painting only in 1867.

She was not a trained biologist either, but fell in love with plants during her travels. Unlike naturalists of the time, she would paint the plants on site instead of digging them up and taking them home.

She would also weave in the surrounding backdrop in her paintings, instead of simply drawing the plant on its own. This gave some context to how the plant grows in nature.

She also collected many new plant specimens and sent them to Kew Gardens. In honour of her discoveries, North had five plant species and a plant genus named after her.

She was commended by Queen Victoria and praised by English naturalist Charles Darwin for her dedication to art and botany.

Excerpts of their letters to her and other detailed nuggets about her life are displayed at the exhibition here.

North, who never married, died in 1890. Dr Taylor says: "Alongside the lush greenery at Singapore's first Unesco World Heritage Site, visitors can get a glimpse of the flora in the 1800s, including that of old Singapore through North's paintings."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2017, with the headline 'Lush history on show'. Print Edition | Subscribe