Marianne North

Date Posted: 22/03/2017

With some of the most beautiful flora and fauna on the planet, the Seychelles islands are a tropical paradise. Home to around 2,000 plant species, these include the famous Coco de Mer, the jellyfish tree and the rare and fragrant vanilla orchid.

During the 19th century, holidays overseas weren't commonplace and photography was in its infancy. The islands would have been just a place on the atlas and the average person would be unlikely to ever see the tropical splendour and vibrant colours synonymous with the Seychelles’ archipelago.

Archipelago

Victorian biologist and botanical artist, Marianne North, brought the beauty of the Seychelles back to her native England. Capturing the beguiling blooms and lush green foliage on canvas, she is also credited with discovering the Northea Seychellana tree during her time on the islands in the 1880s - previously an unreported genus.

Born in Hastings on 24th October 1830, Marianne had a privileged upbringing, as her father was an MP and magistrate. She was a talented painter but in those days, it was unheard of for a woman of her class to have a profession. She remained single, shunning the traditional society norm.

Following the death of her mother in 1855 and of her father in 1869, Marianne received a large inheritance. In 1871, she decided to follow her dream of travelling the world, painting plants and flowers along the way. She visited every continent in 14 years, spending time in Seychelles in 1884/85.

She also wrote about her extensive foreign travels and plant discoveries, including the Northea Seychellana tree of Seychelles. A gallery devoted to her ground-breaking work was opened at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. She completed 848 paintings in her lifetime, donating the majority to Kew Gardens and even paying for the gallery to display them.

It's hard to imagine the original impact of her paintings, as this would have been akin to seeing images beamed from the surface of the moon! Even the eminent botanists, who knew some plants from dried specimens, had little idea of their natural habitat.

Her paintings of Seychelles include palms in Mahe; the Asiatic pancratium; Coco de Mer Gorge in Praslin; the clove in fruit; native vanilla hanging from the wild orange in Praslin; the moon reflected in a Seychelles turtle pool; Round Island and Ile Aride, painted from Long Island; waterfall in Coco de Mer Gorge; fruit grown in Seychelles; and sugar birds and their nest.

She also painted some of the local people at the time, such as the men smelt-fishing at Port Victoria; life on the coast of Praslin; and Dr and Mrs Hoad outside their home in Praslin. This completed the snapshot of Seychelles in the 1880s and her gallery in Kew Gardens gave ordinary people the chance to immerse themselves in the glorious colour and atmosphere of the islands.

marianne north painting

Sadly, her trip to Seychelles was Marianne's last visit overseas, as she suffered ill health on her return to England. She began to spend all her time cataloguing her work for display, until her death on 30th August 1890 at the age of 59 years.

Her work remains of great botanical importance and to this very day it remains one of Kew Gardens' most popular galleries, with the paintings displayed in their original Victorian arrangements.

If you're looking for luxury hotels in Seychelles to experience the islands' breathtaking beauty first-hand, Savoy Resort and Spa embraces the scenic glory of these enchanting islands.