'Smithsonian: Victorian Rebel Marianne North'
(DVD / PG / 2018 / PBS)
Overview: In the late 1800s, Marianne North traveled to the far corners of the world in search of exotic botanical life, paintbrush in hand. Her artistry and vision impressed top scientists and her rebellious spirit continues to inspire women to this day.
DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, Marianne North was a rather prolific English Victorian biologist and botanical artist, notable for her plant and landscape paintings, her extensive foreign travels, her writings, her plant discoveries and the creation of her gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
North was born in Hastings, England, the eldest daughter of a prosperous land-owning family descended from the Hon. Roger North, younger son of Dudley North, 4th Baron North.
Her father was Frederick North, a Norfolk Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace, and Liberal M.P. for Hastings. Her mother, Janet, was the daughter of Sir John Marjoribanks M.P., 1st Baronet of Lees in the County of Berwick. She was the eldest of three children.
North trained as a vocalist under Charlotte Helen Sainton-Dolby, but her voice failed, and she then devoted herself to painting flowers.
After the death of her mother in 1855, she constantly travelled with her father, who was then member of parliament for Hastings; and on his death in 1869 she decided to pursue her early ambition of painting the flora of distant countries.
Watching this simply fascinating new documentary on her, 'Smithsonian: Victorian Rebel Marianne North,' we learn that she began flower painting after the death of her mother in 1855.
The family had homes in Hastings and London in this period. Her interest in botany may have stemmed from her father's acquaintance with Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Her first watercolour landscapes were undertaken on a trip to Europe with her sister and father.
After her sister married in 1864 and her father lost his seat in parliament, the two spent even more time travelling, visiting Switzerland and the South Tyrol.
They travelled in Syria and along the Nile in 1865-67. Her father became ill in the Alps in 1869, and she brought him back to Hastings, where he died. She continued to paint as a way to assuage her grief.
After her father's death in she travelled and made paintings in Sicily. In 1871–1872, she travelled to Canada, the United States and Jamaica, and spent a year in Brazil, where she did much of her work at a hut in the depths of a forest.
The documentary then showcases that in 1875, after a few months in Tenerife, she began a journey round the world, and for two years painted the flora of California, Japan, Borneo, Java and Ceylon. During her visits to California, she recorded her concern with the destruction of the redwoods. Indeed, she spent all of 1878 in various parts of India.
On her return to Britain, North exhibited a number of her drawings in London. She offered to give the collection to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and to erect a gallery to house them. This offer was accepted, and the new buildings, designed by James Fergusson, were begun that year.
At Charles Darwin's suggestion, North went to Australia in 1880, and for a year painted there and in New Zealand. On her return, she presented Darwin the shrub 'Australian Sheep' (Raoulia eximia) as a gift and showed him her Australian pictures. Her paintings of Banksia attenuata, B. grandis and B. robur were highly regarded. Her gallery at Kew was subsequently opened in 1882.
In 1883, after a visit to South Africa, during which trip she called on the botanical artist Katharine Saunders, an additional room was opened at the Kew gallery, and in 1884–1885 North worked in the Seychelles and in Chile.
When ill-health curtailed her travelling she moved to Alderley, Gloucestershire where she died on 30 August 1890 and is buried in the local churchyard.
In conclusion, over 800 paintings of flora from around the world decorate the walls of the Marianne North Gallery of London's Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, each one a testament to the extraordinary life of the woman who painted them. 'Smithsonian: Victorian Rebel Marianne North' celebrates the life and adventures of this gifted Victorian trailblazer, and rightly so. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.