top of page

The Shirley Sherwood Collection Modern Masterpieces of Botanical Art - A Review

Strelizia nicolai, Beverly Allen, 2003

I have just emerged from the most luxurious botanical art book and I would love to share my experience with you.

The Shirley Sherwood Collection

Modern Masterpieces of Botanical Art

Publishers: Kew Publishing Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

ISBN 978-1-84246-693-3

Dr Shirley Sherwood

This knowledgable and comprehensive work spans thirty years of enthusiastic collecting by Dr Sherwood, a trained botanist. Separated into seven geographical regions, each section begins with an introduction outlining how the author chose the specific piece and when combined with recollections about the selected artists, adds a personal touch to the sumptuous illustrations. It is fascinating to hear, in her own words, Dr Sherwood’s journey in the world of botany, botanical art and collecting.

The coverage of both the media used and compositional ideas is excellent, The images are crisp and the legends clear. The works vary from traditional botanical compositions to contemporary and creative views of these beautiful plants. As an educational tool for the aspiring botanical artist you could not do better. In all I counted twenty eight different types of media and materials used to portray a wide variety of plant specimens, leading to some spectacular images. This is truly a unique collection.

Although each page reveals another gem I found three illustrations that were particularly special to me. The first two were the oil paintings on glass by Yanny Petters. These were so different from everything else showing the expertly executed third dimension through judicious shading and a compelling life-like composition.

The third was a habitat composition of a Brazilian root parasite, Langsdorffia hypogaea by Rosália Demonte. Painted on vellum using gouache, this detailed illustration jumped out of the page and when combined with the carefully selected ground cover, made a really beautiful piece.

Ginko biloba, Tai-li Zhang 1994

A charming painting of an Aristolochia sp., painted from a dry specimen, by Norah Briggs, Dr Sherwood’s mother, is a lovely inclusion within the artists from the British Isles.

In the same section is a painting of Babington’s Leek: Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii by Mally Francis. Mally, who sadly died in 2019, was a great supporter of ABBA and this image was used on our first leaflets and posters for our ABBA launch, a special inclusion for the Association in the collection.

British born artist Margaret Mee (1909-1988) is listed in the Latin American section because of her huge influence on the botanical art of Brazil. Work by both herself and some of the students helped by her bursary Margaret Mee established, is also included. For example, the striking bromeliad Neoregelia magdalenae painted by the first artist to benefit from the bursary.

Neoregelia magdalenae, Malena Barretto 1997

Although there are some pieces of work by past masters, for example Johan Christoph and Barbara Regina Dietzesch for me, the shear delight was in viewing the more contemporary work.

The story surrounding the commissioning by the Sherwood’s family of the one thousandth painting for the collection is not only charming but informative. It describes the process that Coral Guest, the artist, went through to do justice to the pairs of white bracts of Davidia involucrata, the Dove or Pocket Handkerchief tree, a favourite of Dr Sherwood’s. It is a dilemma that other botanical artists would recognise. The final piece is carefully worked and conveys the delicacy of these beautiful flowering bracts.

Davidia involucrata, Coral Guest, 2018

The final section contains the Artists Bibliographies and a list of abbreviations.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in botanical art especially those new to the genre. For botanical artists it is a must have for their library. This is a book that you will return to time and time again and see something new. It would certainly make a fabulous gift.

Elaine Allison

February 2020

439 views0 comments


bottom of page