Who? The Society of Botanical Artists are currently exhibiting a selection of varied works at Westminster Central Hall, including illustrations of rare and endangered species and, to coincide with the upcoming Jubilee, depictions of plants with royal connections.
What? The practice of botanical illustration can be traced back to the year 512, when works were created to assist the identification of a species for medicinal purposes. When systems of botanical nomenclature began to be published, the role of botanical illustrator came to be considered a profession. The job requires great artistic skill, attention to fine detail, and technical botanical knowledge. Typical illustrations will be in watercolour, in life size, or the scale will be shown, and display the face and reverse of leaves, flowers, bud, seed and root system.
Why? Over the past two decades, botanical art and illustration has experienced a resurgence of interest. In 1997, inspired by pressed flowers and plants at the herbarium in London's Natural History Museum, photographer Nick Knight produced 46 photographs of the specimens for his book Flora. In the book's preface, Knight marvels at the variety of forms and hues: “Some were like feathers of neon, breathtakingly delicate. . . others were like urban plans, architecturally precise . . . many were joyful splashes of color like children’s paintings, carefree, happy nonsense.”
"Aside from the striking aesthetic qualities of the art form, illustrative botanical depiction plays a key role in the increasing interest in the changes occurring in the natural world"
Aside from the striking aesthetic qualities of the art form, illustrative botanical depiction plays a key role in the increasing interest in the changes occurring in the natural world, and in the central role plants play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. A sense of urgency has developed in recording today's changing plant life for future generations. Working with scientists, conservationists, horticulturists, and galleries locally and around the world, today's illustrators and artists are pushing the boundaries of what has traditionally been considered part of the genre.
The exhibition Botanical Celebration runs at Westminster Central Hall until Sunday April 27.
Text by Laura Bradley