Last week I was invited to the library of the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin to meet some botanical artists. I was extremely grateful to be invited, as I'm not strictly a botanical artist at all. The library has an extensive collection of amazing Botanical artwork, and having noticed an increase in the number of visitors asking about botanical painting, they decided to invite a few artists along for a get together. After a talk by Brendan Sayers, the foreman of the Gardens, about the background of botanical painting there, we were given a tour by Librarians Colette and Alex of the rare books room (I could have spent all day in there..) and shown some drawings by Irish artists (all women..), including Sophia Rosamond Praeger, who lived in Holywood, Co Down (I was so impressed by my student Geraldine who came with me, for when they mentioned Praeger, Geraldine immediately recited a quote from one of Praeger's sculptures.. I just basked in the reflected glory!) - Praeger was well known for her scultptures. We also had a fabulous peer at the botanical paintings of Lydia Shackleton (1848 - 1914) - they were laid out for us to view unframed. Amazing work and an honour to get such a good, close-up look. Some of the work is incredibly small - in botanical painting, your painting must be the same size as the flower.
We were treated to coffee and scones, and I was taken totally by surprise when they began singing Happy Birthday and brought out a cake for me!! Aw! Big blushes, and thanks to Colette, and to Shevaun for being so kind. You can see from the photo that I'm only 3..
The highlight was a talk by Susan Sex, who is a beautiful painter, generous with her time and happy to share her knowledge. She has produced two books alongside Brendan Sayers on Irish orchids, and has recently completed a set of Botanical Stamps. Very interesting hearing how she has about 2 days to paint a flower before it gives up the ghost. To help her, she has people turning up on her doorstep with floral offerings. The foxgloves were, apparently, the 'last foxgloves in Ireland', and were brought to her from the Mournes last year! So, an art form which requires the artist to drop everything, paint it now and paint fast. (no pressure there then..) The exhibition of stamps is still on, really worth a look. It includes all the artwork plus many of the preliminary drawings. As you can see from the photo below, the paintings are tiny - there is one on the wall behind Susan's head.
Susan Sex, above and below, talking about her sketch books.
Susan also spoke to us about a variety of artists, including Frans Bower, Augusta Drake, Margaret Meade (who spent many years painting in the Amazon, and was deeply concerned about the number of plants disappearing), Wendy Walsh, who is still painting, aged 97, and Raymond Piper, who was a mad-sounding artist from Belfast. (Well, a mad artist in Belfast? Whatever next?!)
We finished by showing and sharing our paintings, which was a pleasure - botanical painting is alive and well in Ireland. This fantastic water colour painting by Lynn Stringer was shown on the day