Marianne North (1830-1890) was a British woman, world traveler, and painter. Today we know her as a painter, but her first passion and talent was music which she was forced to give up.
Daughter of Frederick North, an MP, Marianne was able to travel the world because of his political connections. He provided her with “letters of introduction to ambassadors, viceroys, rajahs, governors, and ministers all over the world.”
A brief timeline of Marianne’s incredible life:
- 1865-67 Marianne traveled with her family to Syria and along the Nile.
- 1867 Marianne’s father dies and Marianne is made independently wealthy. With her financial freedom, she is able (unlike most Victorian women) to lead the life she chooses. Marianne chose to continue traveling and to keep painting which she only discovered in 1867 at age 40.
- Marianne’s 1st journey alone. She traveled to the United States, Canada, and Jamaica.
- 1872 Eight month stay in Brazil where Marianne “completed more than 100 paintings.” She was an unconventional painter, choosing to “depict landscapes and natural habitats rather than individual plants.”
- 1875 She traveled to California, Japan, Borneo, and Ceylon.
- 1876-77 Marianne travels back to England via Sarawak, Java, and Sri Lanka.
- 1878 Marianne made her way through parts of India.
- 1879 Marianne exhibited her paintings in London. She decides to permanently show her work at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew if a gallery will be built to display her work. Sir Joseph Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, agrees to her proposal and a gallery begins construction.
- 1880 Marianne travels to Australia and New Zealand on Charles Darwin’s suggestion.
Upon receipt of her painting “Australian Sheep” which North gave Darwin as thanks for his suggestion, Darwin wrote the following in a letter to North: “I am often able to call up with considerable vividness scenes in various countries which I have seen, and it is no small pleasure; but my mind in this respect must be a mere barren waste compared with your[s].”
- 1882 The Marianne North Gallery at Kew opens to the public.
(You can still visit her gallery today. The gallery was restored in 2008 and displays all of North’s paintings: a total of 833 paintings which depict more than 900 species of plants. If you can’t afford the plane ticket, visit her online gallery.)
- 1883 Marianne traveled to South Africa.
- 1884-85 She traveled to Seychelles and Chile.
North was an exceptional woman and artist. Her paintings, which are more scientific and exact than impressionistic, tell us so much about plant life in the countries she visited.
Still to this day, her body of work is one of Britain’s finest botanical art collections. Thanks to Marianne’s uncommon style of painting we have a “snapshot of the world’s natural habitat more than 100 years ago.” Today many of the species of plants she captured have vanished from the world due to de-forestation and industrialization.
Marianne is a superb example to women everywhere–to never give up, to live unconventionally, and that 40 is just the beginning!