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.
Catasetum trulla Lindl. var. trilobatum