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The Paintings

The Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection presents botanical paintings by Margaret Mee, 1956-1969

These twenty-one paintings, acquired by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, were painted by Margaret Mee during her first three expeditions into the Amazon, between 1956 and 1969. The overall purpose of these paintings was to serve as aesthetically accurate scientific illustrations, however, Mee's obvious passion and talent elevates her work.

In 1969, Mee published a book of prints, which featured many of her early paintings. Roberto Burle Marx, a well-known landscape architect and close personal friend, wrote in his introduction to the volume that, “As a specialist in scientific illustration she is the most efficient I have ever known. Her work achieves perfection without becoming stereotyped…. In fact, Margaret Mee takes the plant from its obscurity and shows its colour, rhythm, texture, and form without ever becoming pretentious in so doing.”  He praised her work, rating it equal to and in some ways better than the botanical drawings of her peers. He spoke from personal experience about Mee’s fieldwork, saying:

"I remember an excursion I made to collect rare plants hitherto not cultivated. Margaret Mee, with her gift of keen observation, surprised us by always finding the rarest species. She has the desire to identify her discoveries and the joy of sharing them with plant lovers. It is this which takes her into the forests as an explorer, braving poisonous snakes, illnesses and more, in order to arrive at the supreme moment of flowering, the moment when Nature seems to reveal herself in all her beauty, mystery, and luxuriance. The artist takes advantage of this magic moment to discover and portray an infinite series of secrets and revelations, rich in colour and form."Mee, Margaret. Flowers of the Brazilian Rainforests; collected and painted by Margaret Mee. London: Tryon Gallery, 1969. p 11.

This almost magical quality infuses Mee’s paintings. She is now highly regarded not only as a botanical illustrator, but as a skilled and nuanced artist. It is no wonder that Mrs. Bliss was attracted to her work.

Please explore and enjoy the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection’s paintings by Margaret Mee.

 

Exhibit Items

Margaret Mee, 1957

Stanhopea graveolens

Margaret Mee, 1958

Pitcairnia flammea

Margaret Mee, 1958

Aechmea nudicaulis

Margaret Mee, 1958

Zygopetalum maxillare

Margaret Mee, 1958

Eucharis amazonica

Margaret Mee, 1959

Vreisia simplex

Margaret Mee, 1959

Bifrenaria harrisonae

Margaret Mee, 1960

Catasetum trulla Lindl. var. trilobatum

Margaret Mee, 1960

Neoregelia concentrica

Margaret Mee, 1961

Hippeastrum sp.

Margaret Mee, 1961

Dichorisandra thyrsiflora

Margaret Mee, 1964

Tabebuia umbellata

Margaret Mee, 1964

Streptocalyx longifolius

Margaret Mee, 1964

Bromelia anticantha

Margaret Mee, 1964

Heliconia psittacorum

Margaret Mee, 1964

Ananas bracteatus

Margaret Mee, 1969

Nematanthus fluminensis

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