Marianne North by Julia Margaret Cameron (24 October 1830 – 30 August 1890)

Marianne North photographed in Ceylon by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1877.

“She made up her mind at once she would photograph me, and for three days she kept herself in a fever of excitement about it, but the results have not been approved of at home since. She dressed me up in flowing draperies of cashmere wool, let down my hair, and made me stand with spiky cocoa-nut branches running into my head, the noonday sun’s rays dodging my eyes between the leaves as the slight breeze moved them, and told me to look perfectly natural (with a thermometer standing at 96 degrees)! Then she tried me with a background of breadfruit leaves and fruit, nailed flat against a window shutter, and told them to look natural, but both failed; and though she wasted twelve plates, and an enormous amount of trouble, it was all in vain, she could only get a perfectly uninteresting and commonplace person on her glasses, which refused to flatter.” Recollections of a happy life: being the autobiography of Marianne North, Volume 1, pg. 315, London Macmillan & Co., 1892

albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron showing Marianne North painting a Tamil boy in Mrs Cameron’s house in Ceylon, 1877, private collection, UK.

"Although she had no formal training in illustration, and was rather unconventional in her methods, Marianne North had a natural artistic talent and was very prolific. She inherited her interest in traveling from her father, the MP Frederick North. Her political connections served her well, providing her with letters of introduction to ambassadors, viceroys, rajahs, governors and ministers all over the world.

Marianne undertook her first journey, to the United States, Canada and Jamaica, in 1871. This was followed by an eight-month stay in Brazil, during which she completed more than 100 paintings. She tended to depict landscapes and natural habitats rather than individual plants. One picture, from Brazil, shows a colony of the black, red and yellow butterfly Heliconius erato phyllis roosting on a palm leaf. Another shows Mount Fujiyama, Japan, framed by the climbing shrub Wisteria sinensis.

Marianne travelled to Japan across the American continent in 1875, returning two years later via Sarawak, Java and Sri Lanka. Today her paintings from these places provide an important historical record. Some places are still recognisable from her paintings. For example, stands of the giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus) that she painted in 1877 at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, can still be seen thriving in the gardens today.

After exhibiting her paintings in a London gallery in 1879, Marianne had the idea of showing them at Kew. She wrote to Sir Joseph Hooker, offering to build a gallery if he would agree to display her life’s work in it. The gallery was duly built in a mix of classical and colonial styles. After a visit to Australia and New Zealand, Marianne spent a year arranging her paintings inside the building. It opened to the public in 1882". Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens.

Two samples of paintings by Marianne North


Loretta Proctor said…
As always you come up with such an amazing amount of information and little known pictures, Kimberley! I do like these paintings and have a feeling I've seen some of her pictures at Kew Gardens in London. Am I imagining this? They look so familiar.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Lorri,
Thank you so much for your kind words as always! Yes, exactly right. Kew Gardens it is. Her bust is there as well as her collection of paintings.
WoofWoof said…
Her gallery is at the far end of Kew (near the Lion Gate) - it's a beautiful building and is packed with her amazing paintings, displayed Victorian style from floor to ceiling! It's interesting that she was photographed at Cameron's house in Ceylon. I've often wondered about JMC's return to Ceylon. It seems like she was at the height of her popularity and at the centre of society at Freshwater. Then suddenly they took off, went back to Ceylon and I think I'm right in thinking didn't live very long after returning there. It's nice to know that she continued her photography out there. It's strange I've never seen any of her photographs set in Ceylon.
Kimberly Eve said…
I must visit the gallery next time I get back to London. Yes, JMC's return to Ceylon, was twofold really. Her husband, Charles Hay Cameron, was ill before they left Dimbola Lodge in Freshwater. For what we know, JMC was not ill or complaining of illness. However, they 'chose' to travel back on ferry from Isle of Wight to Ceylon with their caskets filled with their personal belongings. Once in Ceylon, Charles regained his health but JMC died in 1879 and he a year later in 1880. Both buried in what is now Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). Email me privately at if you want my sources on this I'd be happy to share them with you.
WoofWoof said…
Thanks for filling in the details Kimberly.
Kimberly Eve said…
My pleasure, WoofWoof! So happy you stopped by.