Exhibition preview: Blooming Marvellous, Natural History Museum at Tring, Tring, May 24 – August 18 2013
Sydney Parkinson may not have survived the journey he made with Captain Cook to the South Pacific. But his work, drawing 1,000 plants en route, was deemed sufficiently important by Sir Joseph Banks to see the illustrations copied and engraved after the ship returned without the artist.
© Natural History Museum, London
Parkinson is one of several prolific, incredibly skilled observers whose works are brought out in this show. The Natural History Museum looks after six million global plant specimens, supplemented by an impressive collection of botanical art with a particular scientific value harking back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when these watercolours and sketches were important parts of studious exploration.
Some of the artists worked as British Empire merchants, teachers or doctors in their spare time. Franz Bauer, whose creations here are regarded among the most technically sophisticated of all time, was the first paid artist at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Georg Dionysius Ehret is credited with inventing a classification-driven style of illustration. Ehret showed each part of the flower separately and in intricate detail, providing a kind of microscope for scientists eager to investigate these new floral discoveries.
These days, scientists can deploy the power of technology to magnify specimens up to 250,000 times. Illustrations still play their part, though, as this survey across 400 years demonstrates.
- Open 10am-5.50pm. Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @NHM_London.