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LONDON — A total of 49 paintings, capturing the exotic beauty of Jamaica’s flowers and plants, are on display at the Marianne North Gallery at Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London.

The gallery, which reopened recently, features 800 paintings from the 19th Century from all the continents and 49 are from Jamaica. The paintings and a pagoda, represent the entire collection of the British naturalist and botanical artist North, who visited Jamaica on several occasions, where she painted beautiful scenery and exotic plants.

Chairman of Kew Gardens, Professor Stephen Harper, invited the audience to note that the name Jamaica had been etched in gold on the ceiling along with a few of the other countries from which plants were painted. 

He said that the paintings were over a hundred years old, but had retained their beauty. He said they also were an exhibition of the strength of a single woman, who went around the globe three times, and was able to bring the beauty of distant lands for display in London.

Jamaican High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Anthony Johnson, who was in attendance used the opportunity to open talks around possible exchange programmes between Jamaica’s botanical gardens and Kew Gardens.

He noted that Jamaica had long been seen as an island with special botanical qualities, which would have inspired people like Marianne North.

“Jamaica’s flora is well recognised in botanical circles around the world. Interestingly, Jamaica is well featured in London, not only at Kew Gardens, but also at the Chelsea Physic Garden and the British Museum, thanks to the collections of Sir Hans Sloane. Our botany is a special attribute that we have and we should work to try and maximise its potential. It would be great to be able to benefit from the tremendous experience that exists at Kew as we seek to revitalise and further develop our own Hope Gardens,” he said.

Executive Director for Projects and Events Officer at Kew Gardens, Elisabeth West, said opportunities for training and capacity building schemes for Jamaican botanists are being explored.

“We offer courses in conservation techniques and botanical garden management and it would be great to get some Jamaicans into the programmes. It is very important that the value of botanical gardens filters down through the education chain so that teachers and students are able to see that botanical gardens are still as popular as they used to be,” she stated.

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew attracts more than 1.2 million visitors annually.   

Marianne North (1830-1890), devoted much of her life to painting flowers and travelled around the globe in pursuit of her ambition.  She exhibited a number of her drawings in London and offered to give the collection to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and to erect a gallery to house them.

 

By ANDREW CLUNIS