Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)


Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB


020-8332 5655



Opening times:

Daily from 9:30; closing time varies according to season (approx. 16:00 in winter, 18:00 in summer)

How to get there:

Tube: Kew Gardens

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Cafés and shop

Situated, at the artist’s request, in a quiet corner of the Royal Botanic Gardens, away from the main gate and other places of refreshment, the Marianne North Gallery survives almost unaltered since the day of its opening on 9 June 1882. Red brick with a veranda, typical of European dwellings of that period in India, the building was expressly designed to display Marianne North’s oil paintings, 832 studies of nature from life in countries all over the world, executed between 1871 and 1885. Many were painted in circumstances of considerable discomfort and hardship, so Marianne North also wanted the gallery to remind visitors of the hospitality offered to the weary traveller in far-flung places, stipulating to that end that the gallery should serve ‘tea or coffee and biscuits, nothing else, at a fair price’.

After the death of her beloved father, MP for Hastings, in 1869, Marianne North (1830–90) devoted her life to travelling and painting. In 1871 she visited North America, Jamaica and Brazil. Two years later she crossed America on her way to Japan, returning via the East Indies and Ceylon. 1880 found her in Australia and New Zealand, at Charles Darwin’s suggestion. Immediately after the opening of her gallery, which she provided for, curated and arranged herself, she visited South Africa. Finally, despite declining health, she travelled to Chile in 1884.

The three-room building was designed by her friend, the architectural historian James Fergusson, using natural light on principles learned from the study of ancient Greek temples. Neatly numbered, labelled and arranged in geographical order, her direct, colourful, uncomplicated oil paintings, none much larger than twelve inches by six, fill the walls completely above the dado, itself made of some 250 vertical strips of different types of timber. Lit from above by clerestory windows, the pictures depict over 900 different species of plant, as well as various views, landscapes and architecture, all framed in uniform black with a gold fillet. Directly ahead of visitors upon entering are ‘Plants Sacred to the Hindus’: the sacred lotus or Padma; the all-curing Neem; and the foliage, fruit, and flowers of the tree sacred to Krishna, the Banyan. Clockwise from this point are pictures of plants and scenes from Singapore, Borneo, Japan, Java, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Jamaica, America, Ceylon, and back to India. Above the main entrance is picture no. 1, Victoria Regia, an extraordinary waterlily, followed by no. 2, Common Tobacco. Along with surprising juxtapositions, these hard-earned holiday snaps also occasionally allow for humorous titles: no. 735, for example, Australian bears and Australian pears. In the smaller inner sanctum of the gallery are more pictures from Australia, as well as from the Cape of Good Hope, the Seychelles, South Africa, Tenerife and India again.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


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