Marianne North Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Heritage Category: Listed Building
List Entry Number: 1251787
Date first listed: 10-Jan-1950
Date of most recent amendment: 18-Oct-2012
Statutory Address: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Green, Richmond, TW9 3AB
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Statutory Address: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Green, Richmond, TW9 3AB
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: Greater London Authority
District: Richmond upon Thames (London Borough)
Parish: Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference: TQ 18682 76431
Purpose-built picture gallery, opened in 1882, designed by the architect and architectural historian James Fergusson for Marianne North to house the collection of 848 flower paintings that she executed between 1872 and 1885.
Reasons for Designation
Marianne North Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
*Architectural interest: the design, making use of natural lighting, informed by Fergusson's knowledge of the lighting of the classical temple, the colour scheme and decoration influenced by the published work and opinion of the antiquarian Owen Jones;
* Gallery interior: the architecture, internal decoration, some executed by the artist, and the paintings are inextricably associated, providing a rich setting specifically designed for the collection;
* Rarity: a rare example of a later C19 gallery designed by an artist to display their own work, in this case unusually a female artist and traveller, and where the collection is close-hung in a manner unusual at the time and now a rare example of this type of display;
* Collection: exceptional collection of botanical, landscape and still life paintings in oils on paper, made during her journeys across the world; hung in gilded mounts and black wood frames, all the work of the artist;
* Historic interest: aside from her paintings, Marianne North stands alongside other pioneering Victorian women for her journeys, which were exceptional achievements in their own right, and particularly for a woman at that time, influencing notable travellers such as Freya Stark. The design and decoration of the building reflects later C19 tastes influenced by increasingly available antiquarian knowledge, acquired by direct observation.
The Marianne North Gallery lies within the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, which is included in the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade I and was designated a World Heritage Site in 2003.
The gallery was built in 1879-1882 to the designs of James Fergusson. It was commissioned by Marianne North in 1879 to house her collection of paintings of exotic plants which she presented to Kew Gardens. The building stands next to the entrance to the Gardens that was built in 1860s, but in the event was never used. Had earlier plans been realised, it would have been the main entrance, approached from the new station. Marianne North wrote rather later that she had selected the site as being '...far from the normal entrance-gates, as I thought a resting place and shelter from rain and sun were more needed there, by those who cared sufficiently for plants and here made their way through all the houses. Those persons who merely cared for promenading would probably never get beyond the palm-house. There was a gate and lodge close to my site for those who drove there straight, and though that gate was kept shut then, I hoped to get it opened by means of the vox populi in due time-perhaps not in my lifetime...' (Recollections vol II, pp 86-87).
Whereas increasing numbers of endowed public galleries were built in the later C19, this gallery was one of only a few purpose-built galleries of this date that was built by a private individual to house their own specific collection, standing alongside The Lady Lever Gallery, Port Sunlight (listed Grade II). Moreover the Marianne North Gallery is one of only two to be created, and indeed, donated by an artist for the display of their own life-work, the other being the Watts Gallery at Compton, in Surrey, (listed Grade II*). Although externally the building might resemble a colonial governor's house, the interior form of the gallery drew on Fergusson's understanding of the Greek temple, providing an enclosed naturally-lit space, with walls freed from windows. It differed from the trend towards top-lit galleries that was favoured by the mid-C19, while the close-hanging of the paintings, which was common practice in the C18 and for temporary exhibitions, was considered unusual and unsophisticated by this date. This method of picture hanging with frames abutting directly with each other, which was the device and labour of the artist herself, is a very rare surviving example of this layout, certainly not used in any other public gallery, although it is seen in some country house print-rooms. By 1885 electric lighting has been installed - an early example of its use in a gallery.
When first built the main gallery accommodated some 620 paintings; shortly afterwards it was extended eastwards, increasing the capacity to 848 paintings; Marianne North continued to travel after it had been completed, augmenting her collection. The gallery is reached through a porch or narthex which, Marianne North suggested, would give space for umbrellas and ladies' clogs and for the custodian, while the verandah provided shelter from the elements. A scheme to provide refreshments for the weary walker was deemed inappropriate for the botanic garden and was never realised.
In 2010-11 the Gallery was restored in keeping with the original intention, colour scheme and finishes, that reinstated the full richness of the architectural setting and confirmed how very much the building and its picture-display depend on each other for their full effect. It is subject of a Conservation Management Plan (2011) which provides a detailed history, description and analysis of the building and its contents.
Marianne North (1830-1890) daughter of Frederick North, Liberal MP for Hastings, was brought up in a cultured and well-connected family. Typical of a young lady of her standing, she was an accomplished musician and artist, learning first the art of watercolour painting and later painting in oils. After the death of her mother she became the constant companion of her father until his death in 1869. Together they travelled widely in Europe and to the Middle East, while she also took an interest in the botanical collections at Chiswick and Kew Gardens, where Sir William Hooker introduced her to newly discovered exotic flora from the tropics.
She set off on her first independent journey in 1871, travelling to the east coast of North America and Jamaica. The following year she went to Brazil, and in 1875 to Tenerife, Canada and the west coast of the USA from where she travelled to Japan. After a brief stay, curtailed by illness, she moved on to the East Indies and Sri Lanka where she stayed with the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Undaunted, in 1876 she visited Sarawak, Java and Singapore, and in 1877 Sri Lanka and India. While in England in 1879 she was invited to meet Charles Darwin; each had a mutual respect for their achievements. In 1880 she set off once more, encompassing Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, visiting Honolulu en route to the USA. Ill health was taking its toll, but she continued to travel until 1884, completing journeys to South Africa, the Seychelles, Chile and Jamaica.
She finally retired to Alderley, Gloucestershire, where she took great pleasure in creating the garden and writing her memoirs, Recollections of a Happy Life, living there until her death on 30 August 1890. Her paintings, which unusually for work done in the field are executed in oil on paper, form a unique collection of botanical records that depict plants in their natural habitat, often in a setting of buildings and people, or grouped as a still-life.
Aside from her achievement in setting up the gallery, for her journeys Marianne North stands alongside other pioneering women of the C19 and early C20, inspiring women travellers such as Freya Stark.
James Fergusson (1808-1886) who is principally known as an architectural theorist and writer was born in Ayr, south-west Scotland, the son of a military doctor. After schooling in London he went into business, and acquired a considerable fortune in the indigo trade in India, allowing him to retire at an early age. He too was a keen traveller, visiting and writing on the rock-cut temples of India and the ancient architecture of Hindustan. He is best known for the Illustrated Handbook of Architecture, published in 1855 and for his influential History of Modern Styles of Architecture (1862) which culminated in the four volumes of A History of Architecture in All Countries from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1865-7) that became an accepted manual for students. A classicist by inclination, who held strongly expressed views against the C19 gothic revival, he had the highest regard for the architecture of ancient Greece.
While he considered himself better suited as an architectural historian rather than a practitioner, he applied his observations to the few buildings that he did design. In this vein the clerestory lighting at the Marianne North Gallery was informed by his understanding, expressed in The Parthenon: an Essay on the mode by which light was introduced into Greek and Roman Temples (1883), that all Grecian Doric peristyle temples were naturally 'lighted by opaions or clerestories'. Although it is not known whether he or Marianne North decided on the deep polychromatic colours of the interior of the gallery, he was both knowledgeable and expressed firm opinions on the richly coloured decoration of the Parthenon and of the palaces at Nineveh and Persepolis. At a time when informed antiquarian research, based on observation and archaeology was increasingly available, he was strongly influenced by the work of Owen Jones (1809-1874) whose acclaimed work, The Grammar of Ornament, was published in 1856 and whom he encountered while General Manager of the Crystal Palace Company from 1856-58, and for which he designed the Nineveh Court.
Although principally known as a potter and ceramicist, Conrad Dressler (1856-1940) was also a noted sculptural portraitist and was the artist of the marble bust of Marianne North within the gallery. After training at the Royal College of Art and in Paris, he became a member of the Art Workers Guild and was influenced by the work of William de Morgan who in turn was inspired by Owen Jones' publications on the art of the Near and Middle East. He was co-founder of the short-lived, progressive Della Robbia Pottery in Birkenhead before moving to Marlow where he established the Medmenham Pottery, producing architectural ceramics.
MATERIALS: red brick, stone dressings, slate and lead roofs. Interior lined in closely-hung paintings set in wooden frames above a dado of samples of mostly tropical hardwoods. Polychrome encaustic tile floors restored in 2010.
PLAN: the gallery interior, its decoration and picture display are designed as an entity where the architecture provides a setting for the paintings. T-shaped on plan, comprising a lobby or narthex, a full-height main gallery and a similar but smaller chamber to the rear that is flanked by a small room to the south and by stairs to the upper floor to the north. The small room was originally intended as a studio, the rooms to the north, as the custodian's accommodation. The gallery is naturally lit by clerestory windows that punctuate the upper wall at upper gallery level.
EXTERIOR: the building is set on a raised turfed bank and reached by a flight of centrally-placed stone steps between shallow parapets.
Symmetrical entrance front in two storeys and three main bays. A central three-bay, pedimented, single-storey entrance lobby breaks forward, flanked on each side by a verandah which wraps round the flanking elevations. Apart from the entrance bay, the ground floor of the main gallery has no openings. Windows are sashes in plain brick openings between brick pilasters with stone dressings, that are set in from the angles of the building. Upper floor windows are grouped 2:3:2, flanked by blind, brick panels, beneath a continuous stone architrave, a plain brick frieze and a prominent stone dentil cornice and above a shallow continuous cill band. Open-pedimented entrance bay, the entrance in a slightly battered, moulded, eared architrave. To each side is a single sash window with a moulded stone head and plain stone sill, and also recessed between brick pilasters. Pair of entrance doors, each of two moulded panels of which the upper panel is glazed with etched glass. The pediment has a slender modillion cornice; within the tympanum is a panel inscribed:
This Gallery/Containing studies from nature/Painted by her in many lands/Was given in 1882 to these gardens by/Marianne North
Pedimented side elevations to the front range and the rear two-storey extension of the gallery are similarly treated. The pedimented elevations and rear elevations each have three grouped upper floor windows between blank brick panels. The verandah has a slightly flared roof supported on cast iron columns. It is built on a brick base, with a stone coping and tiled floor. It is reached via stone steps from the turf bank. Rear and side blocks are also in red brick but simply detailed. Attached to the south is a single-storey block with a hipped roof and tall brick stack (formerly the studio). An entrance with a moulded stone architrave opens onto the verandah beneath a brick parapet. The south-facing elevation has a tripartite sash and four-panelled door in a brick opening. To the north-east is an attached two-storey block with tripartite and single sash windows, a blind ground floor panel and a pair of tall rear stacks. Rear windows overlook an enclosed yard.
INTERIOR: the entrance lobby is lined in vertical matchboard panelling with a moulded timber dado and skirting; the ceiling of the pitched roof is similarly lined. A pair of moulded panelled doors in a moulded architrave and set back within panelled linings lead into the gallery. Upper panels of the doors have restored etched glass; brass door furniture. Floor of restored encaustic tiles. Marble bust of Marianne North by Conrad Dressler (1856-1940) commissioned in 1893 said to be based on her niece who closely resembled her. It was presented to the gallery in 1894 by Marianne North's sister, Mrs JA Symonds. Plinth inscribed:
Miss Marianne North/ The accomplished artist and traveller in/ many lands who painted all the pictures/ in this unique collection and presented them to the nation/ Born 1830 Died 1890
The gallery is set out on a T-plan, comprising the main rectangular full-height space and a smaller centrally-placed extension to the rear, on the axis of the entrance. A continuous upper gallery at clerestory level, that is not accessible to the public, is lit by the first floor windows and projects over a deep coved cornice behind a slender iron balustrade of panels of cross members, each with a central rosette. The first floor windows are set between pilasters that support a simple cornice and a moulded plaster ceiling. Flanking the entrance and internal side doors are painted and gilded panels in oil on wood, depicting foliage and birds, that are also by Marianne North. The panels of the doors leading to the rear rooms are also painted. Doors have brass finger plates ornamented with low relief foliage and birds and other brass door furniture. The doorway leading to the rear section of the gallery is lined in framed oil paintings, the soffit in a single painting. The main interest of the gallery lies in the unique collection of framed oil paintings that line the walls. They were painted from nature in the field, and largely executed on paper and depict plants, either in a natural setting augmented with buildings and people or as still-life compositions, sometimes with birds or animals. Below the upper gallery the walls are closely hung with paintings mounted in their original black moulded wooden frames and gilded fillets, set above a dado of vertical panels of wood samples from around the world, also set in black frames. The pictures are grouped according to their provenance. The names of the areas Marianne North visited are labelled in gilded lettering on the frieze. Above the entrance a dedication: Victoria-Regia. Moving clockwise: Chili, Brazil, Jamaica, America, Ceylon, India and over the entrance to the rear gallery, Sacred Plants of the Hindus. Continuing clockwise, Singapore, Borneo, Japan, Java, New Zealand and Australia. The small gallery is inscribed India, South Africa, Cape of Good Hope, Seychelles and Tenerife. Between the windows of the upper gallery are 16 still-life oil paintings on canvas, of plants on gold leaf backgrounds. These have also been restored and re-hung as they were originally displayed. Similar panels between the windows of the rear gallery are painted as the walls. Re-instated encaustic tile floor and pendant light fittings.
Throughout, the gallery is decorated in repeated stencil motifs that have been recently restored, the coved cornice in an anthemion and rose pattern; the cornice above and upper gallery pilasters and cornice in geometric and floral motifs. The maroon and green colour scheme of the original gallery has been restored.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 434589
Legacy System: LBS
Books and journals
Malden, H E, The Victoria History of the County of Surrey: Volume III, (1911), 1485
Payne, M, Marianne North: A Very Intrepid Painter , (2011)
Ponsonby, L, Marianne North at Kew Gardens, (1990)
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew , , A Vision of Eden: The Life and Work of Marianne North , (1980)
James Fergusson, accessed from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/9336?docPos=14
Fergusson, J, The Parthenon: An Essay on the mode by which light was introduced into Greek and Roman Temples, (1883)
Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England, Part 17 Greater London
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Marianne North Gallery, Conservation Management Plan (June 2011),
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing