1909 – 1988)

The Flowering Amazon

Margaret Mee’s lavish paintings of orchids and bromeliads from the Amazonian forests represent more than the life and spirit of a talented artist drawn to adventure. Her eloquent and precisely painted visions of the vanishing rainforest lay vibrant testimony to the struggle between nature and commerce, thus working to preserve the wild habitats she painted and loved. She is a twentieth-century embodiment of the artist-explorer, with the added virtue of social consciousness. In this regard, her work lays claim to not only artistic merit and scientific accuracy, but stands as an historic witness to preserving a habitat rich in botanical diversity.

Born in 1909 near Chesham in southern England, she grew up among pastoral green fields where her love of nature undoubtedly originated. Early in life, her interest in art was apparent, fostered by her Aunt Nell, an illustrator of children’s books. Coming of age between the wars, she became politically involved, taking a stand against fascism. She resumed her pursuit of art in 1947, acquiring masterful technical facility while studying in England.

Called to Brazil in 1952 to attend the needs of her ailing sister, Catherine, she and her husband, Greville, settled in Sao Paolo, where Mee taught art. She was impressed by the incredible beauty of the local vegetation as they hiked in the coastal forests nearby. During that time, she began to concentrate on painting plant portraits, and in 1956 she embarked on her first journey into Amazonia. At the age of 46, she initiated a perilous and adventurous new chapter in her life.

Mee’s intricately painted plant portraits resulted in exhibitions at the Botanical Institute of Sao Paolo, in Rio de Janeiro in 1958 and in London in 1960. She was establishing her reputation as an outstanding, new botanical artist. In the ensuing years, she worked with many notable botanists in the field, gaining greater insights into the scientific aspects of her botanical subjects. These new perceptions provided further sensitivity to both accuracy and artistic detail of the plants, allowing for precise identification of species, while at the same time providing aesthetic enjoyment in her artistic mastery of every nuance of the plant form.

Depicting many of her plant subjects against an elaborately composed pictorial background, Mee preferred to work in gouache rather than water color. All of her paintings were executed in the field, directly from nature as she witnessed it. Although part of the twentieth-century experience, Mee fits an earlier tradition of botanical artists and Amazonian explorers. Her work stands as one of the finest records of plants and their habitats ever made.

Described in first-person accounts as a “frail, rather bird-like person,” Margaret Mee made fifteen arduous journeys into the wilds of the Amazon forest. In contrast to her apparently delicate appearance, her painting kit included a .32 revolver. During these difficult expeditions, she suffered malaria, infectious hepatitis and nightly attacks by vampire bats, among other hardships. An intrepid explorer, she became acquainted with the Amerindians and later brought international attention to their cause. Her outspoken views on the Amerindians and conservation of the Amazonian habitat never affected her popularity and prestige as an artist. Despite political sensitivities in that country, she was awarded the Brazilian decoration of the Order of the Southern Cross.

By the 1980’s, Margaret Mee came to realize that it would be important to create a collection of her Amazon paintings to serve as a record of what she perceived to be an increasingly vanishing world. The collection, comprised of sixty paintings, was to become permanently available to the public. She stopped selling her work and proceeded to enlist friends in a fundraising campaign to purchase the collection for Kew.

In 1988, on the eve of her Amazon Exhibition at Kew, Margaret Mee was tragically killed in a car accident. It seemed sadly ironic that this adventurous woman should be taken not in the uncharted trails along the Amazon, but on the roads of England. However, her legacy of botanical art continues to speak to the world about preserving the incredible life she explored in the Amazon forests.

We are pleased to present the Oppenheimer Kew Gardens Edition of Margaret Mee’s water color collection. These actual-size facsimiles are virtually identical to the originals which are each unique and otherwise unattainable. Printing with water colors on English water color paper, every detail and brush stroke are faithfully revealed in the same brilliant articulate colors for which Mee’s paintings are famous.

Strictly limited to 300 numbered sets.

For pricing inquires, please contact the Audubon House at info@audubonhouse.org

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