Artist unknown, Linum usitatissimum L., Common flax. Pre-1859. Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, © 2008
Nature Study – Louise Bourgeois and John Hutton Balfour (1808-1884) at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh until July 6 2008.
Nature Study is the latest in a unique series of exhibitions in which contemporary artists are invited to exhibit alongside works from the collections of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
On this occasion, Louise Bourgeois is exhibiting recent drawings and sculpture with extraordinary 19th century teaching diagrams and plant models commissioned by one of the Garden’s great Regius Keepers, John Hutton Balfour (1808-1884), presented on the occasion of the bicentenary of his birth.
Hutton Balfour was Regius Keeper for 34 years (from 1845 to 1879) and his influence can be felt today as he was responsible for building the Temperate Palm House and acquiring Inverleith House and its grounds.
In the mid-19th century, botany was taught to medical students and Hutton Balfour commissioned well over a thousand large diagrams of plants, which were shown during lectures, hung from bent pins on fabric rollers.
Nature Study features a number of these diagrams, including one of a small, insectivorous plant (a Sundew) which is probably one of the largest botanical illustrations ever made, measuring over six feet by four feet.
Louise Bourgeois, Self Portrait (detail), 2007. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York. Photo: Christopher Burke
The drawings by Bourgeois (b. 1911) which respond to these diagrams were made in red gouache on white paper during 2007 and they demonstrate her consistent concern with motherhood: the cycles of life, nature and human nature, and the polarities of birth and death, growth and decay, separation and togetherness.
Nature Study also features the first public screening in Scotland of the documentary film about Louise Bourgeois by Brigitte Cornand; La Rivière Gentille. The third film in Cornand’s trilogy about Bourgeois, is shown daily and presents a moving portrait of the artist, aged 96, filmed in her house in New York which she has not left for ten years.
The bringing together of contemporary art and the scientific study of the natural world has been a distinguishing feature of the exhibitions programme at Inverleith House for many years.
Previous exhibitions in this series of juxtapositions have featured Laura Owens (also paired with the Balfour collection) in 2000; Rudolf Stingel (with 19th century botanical drawings by Indian artists) in 2006, and John Cage with Merce Cunningham (shown with early 20th century botanical drawings by Lilian Snelling) in 2007.
This is an exhibition preview. If you've been to see the show, why not let us know what you think?