Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their place

Alongside Selected British Artists from the Shirley Sherwood Collection
25 March – 17 September 2017
The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Kew Gardens

New exhibition to uncover what made Joseph Hooker ‘the king of Kew’

· Admire a stunning array of drawings, photographs, artefacts, journals from journeys via England to the Antarctic, across the Himalayas and beyond
· From pleasure garden to a centre of world class science; learn more about how Hooker changed the face of botanical science and the origins of Kew
· 80 paintings by British botanical artists on show, including life sized portrait of Titan arum

Joseph Dalton Hooker was one of Victorian Britain’s most important men of science. A botanical emperor and tireless traveller, this new exhibition at The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, ‘Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their place’, charts his incredible life and celebrates the years of hard work that earned him the title ‘the king of Kew’ from Dr Jim Endersby, University of Sussex*.

Visitors will move through a series of delicate yet vibrant drawings, paintings and prints from his travels, alongside portraits, photographs, journals and even artefacts belonging to Hooker himself. Along the way they will discover how Hooker collected plants from all over the world, classifying them, discovering the laws that governed their distribution, and creating a place for botany alongside high status sciences, such as physics. With his father, William – the first official Director of Kew, Hooker also helped to transform Kew from a rather run-down royal pleasure garden into the world-class scientific establishment it is today.

On 30 September 1839 at 22 years of age, Hooker set off on Her Majesty’s Discovery Ship Erebus as the ships assistant surgeon and expedition’s botanist. This exhibition charts his incredible voyage from England to the Antarctic, and many other remote places around the world, with paintings, engravings and even Hooker’s own belongings on display. On his travels Hooker sketched endlessly, capturing temples, villages, memorials, wildlife, the sprawling landscape beneath Everest, and of course countless different plants he encountered along the way. A number of these captivating works are on display.

The importance of botanical illustration, as prevalent today as it was then, is also made abundantly clear in this exhibition, with one of Hooker’s beautifully-preserved, dried Rhododendron thomsonii specimens collected in the Himalayas displayed alongside a coloured field sketch and published plate of the same plant. The illustrations still show the vibrant colour of the species, which has disappeared from the dried specimen, and are able to clearly depict all the key characteristics of the species in a way that the dried specimen, or even a photograph, may not.

Maria Devaney, Galleries and Exhibitions Leader at RBG Kew says; “It has been an absolute privilege to delve into the remarkable life of Joseph Hooker, with this exhibition revealing both his tireless quest to transform the perception of botany, and his desire to establish Kew Gardens as a place of world-class science. This exhibition is a true testament to Hooker’s insatiable appetite for collecting, his fierce determination to raise the status of botany, and his deep rooted love of Kew.

Selected British Artists in the Shirley Sherwood Collection

In the same way that Joseph Hooker was a tireless traveller and an avid collector of plants, Dr Shirley Sherwood has dedicated the last 26 years to traveling extensively and amassing an astonishing collection of contemporary botanical illustrations of 330 works by 86 painters from around the world.

Pandora Sellars, Blue Water Lily Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea, 1995, watercolour on paper

To run alongside ‘Joseph Hooker; Putting plants in their place’, Dr Sherwood has selected a beautiful assortment of over 80 paintings by British botanical artists from her remarkable collection. Spectacular large scale works by Coral Guest and Rosie Sanders will sit alongside a stunning life sized portrait of the Titan arum, a giant among plants, which was painted simultaneously by 3 artists to capture its growth to over 9 feet in just a few days. New paintings by Brigid Edwards and Fiona Strickland as well as a selection of works by Kew artists from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine will also be on display.

Visit website: www.kew.org

* Lead image: Himalayan sketches 1, Joseph Dalton Hooker

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