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Mixed Media

The long tradition of plant representation combines the resources of art and science. While botanical art has been associated with aesthetic pleasure and botanical illustration with scientific documentation, both rely on close observation and convey admiration for the natural world. This section challenges the boundaries between art and illustration and draws on the work of contemporary practitioners to bring our narrative to the present day.

The set of exquisite small-format paintings by Czech artist Caroline Maschek, recently acquired by Dumbarton Oaks, provides a bridge to the late nineteenth century. Commissioned by a Bohemian nobleman to document his impressive collection of orchids, Maschek worked in gouache to capture the delicacy and appeal of living flowers. Alice Tangerini’s pen and ink illustrations, by contrast, draw on flattened herbaria specimens, field photographs or sketches, and dissection under the microscope to synthesize the scientific information vital to botanical identification. The accuracy and functionality of these drawings, which employ the technique of collage, is inseparable from their linear precision and strong compositional sense.

Trained as a biologist, Amy Lamb’s laboratories are her garden and studio, where she combines a scientist’s method with an artist’s eye for color and form. While Tangerini’s drawings are designed ultimately to fit the page of a scientific journal, Lamb scales up her images to convey the plant as a powerful presence soliciting our attention and emotion. Her works challenge “plant blindness,” our inability to recognize and acknowledge the singularity, ubiquity, and significance of plants in our environment.

Regarded as less “charismatic” than animals, plants are nevertheless vital to ecosystems. Nirupa Rao, a botanical artist from Bangalore, India, adopts the traditional medium of watercolor to further the urgent cause of conservation in her book illustrations. Her work is inspired by field visits and informed by collaborations with natural scientists to encourage use of native species and to mediate human-wildlife conflict. Her spirit of exploration breathes new life into the long tradition of women artist’s engagement with nature.

 

Exhibit Items

Paphinia grandis, Columbien, Rchb. Fil.

Caroline Maschek (1857–1938), 1885, 24 x 31.5 cm, gouache on tinted Bristol paper, dated “Janner 885”

Phalænopsis Luddemanniana [Lüddemanniana], Java, Sander et Rchb. Fil

Caroline Maschek (1857–1938), 1885, 24 x 31.5 cm, gouache on tinted Bristol paper, dated “Janner 885”

Trichopilia Coccinea, Costa Rica, Warscz.

Caroline Maschek (1857–1938), 1884–91, 24 x 31.5 cm, gouache on tinted Bristol paper, dated “Juni,” added in pencil “Costa Rica”

Trichocentrum Pfavii, Chiriqui, Rchb. Fil.; Restrepia Antennifera, Neu Grenada, Kth.; Coelogyne Sparsa, Philippinen, Rchb. Fil.

Caroline Maschek (1857–1938), 1886, 24 x 31.5 cm, gouache on tinted Bristol paper, dated “April 886”

Stanhopea Shuttleworthii, Frontino, Rchb. Fil.

Caroline Maschek (1857–1938), 1884–91, 24 x 31.5 cm, gouache on tinted Bristol paper, dated “Juni”

Thunia Alba var. Litacina [lilacina?], O. Indien, Hort.

Caroline Maschek (1857–1938), 1884–91, 24 x 31.5 cm, gouache on tinted Bristol paper, dated “Juni”

Angraecum pertusum (listrostachys), Sierra Leone, Lindl.

Caroline Maschek (1857–1938), 1884–91, 24 x 31.5 cm, gouache on tinted Bristol paper, signed “KBM”

Angraecum sesquipedale

Caroline Maschek (1857–1938), 1884–91, 31.5 × 24 cm, with additional sheet of thin paper measuring 28.5 × 24 cm, gouache on tinted Bristol paper

Boesenbergia

Alice Tangerini (b. 1949), 1998, 14 x 17 in., drawing pen, brush, and ink on Denril Multi-media film. Loan, Alice Tangerini / Smithsonian Institution

Pseudarthria panii

Alice Tangerini (b. 1949), 2015, 14 3/4 x 19 in., drawing, pen, brush, and ink on Denril Multi-media film. On loan, Alice Tangerini / Smithsonian Institution

Heliconia chartacea var. meeana

Alice Tangerini (b. 1949), 1992, 11 1/2 × 15 3/8 in., drawing, pen and ink on Cronaflex Drafting film. Loan, Alice Tangerini / Smithsonian Institution

Orchid Study III, S.I. Stanhopea

Amy Lamb (b. 1944), 2004, 50.8 x 50.8 cm, pigment print of photograph. Loan, Amy Lamb

Angraecum II

Amy Lamb (b. 1944), 2016, 33.8 x 76.2 cm, pigment print of photograph. Loan, Amy Lamb

Orchid Study I, S.I. Bulbophyllum

Amy Lamb (b. 1944), 2004, 32.5 x 76.2 cm, pigment print of photograph. Loan, Amy Lamb

Sterculia urens

Nirupa Rao (b. 1990), 2019, 45.7 × 61 cm, watercolor. Loan, Nirupa Rao

Strangler fig

Nirupa Rao (b. 1990), 2017, 33.3 × 40.6 cm, watercolor. Loan, Nirupa Rao

Sundews

Nirupa Rao (b. 1990), 2018, 24.8 × 28.6 cm, watercolor. Loan, Nirupa Rao