The Marianne North gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, outside of London, is something of a rarity in the art world. It contains not only almost all of the works of a single artist; it was also financed by North herself, who supervised James Ferguson's architectural designs and painted the frieze and decorations around the doors. The building and its contents truly are the products of an artist's controlling vision.
In this paper I will explore how the paintings in this gallery are themselves expressions of a controlling vision that converted native flora and fauna into images arranged and depicted to satisfy the imperial imagination. As a traveler and artist, North benefited from the administrative machinery of British imperialism. Her close connections with Sir William Hooker and his son Sir Joseph Hooker gave her access to garden sites in the British colonial dominions. Wherever she went, she enjoyed the privileges of being not only a British citizen but of having what amounted to diplomatic connections.
In Recollections of a Happy Life, her autobiography, she scarcely mentions the indigenous peoples of the areas through which she travels. Society, when mentioned at all, is always British society. When she painted a scene, she either erased the native presence or pictorialized it in ways that reflected her position as a privileged viewer.
My presentation will draw on both North's writings and her paintings and feature slides of some of the 800 plus paintings in the North Gallery at Kew Gardens.
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