Title: RHS Botanical Illustration - The Gold Medal Winners
Author: Charlotte Brooks
Published: 5th June 2019
Published by: ACC ART Books ISBN: 978-1-78884-014-9
Over the past decades, many excellent books have been published which focus exclusively on botanical art. They range in subject matter from examinations of an individual artist’s work, practical guides to techniques, or an analysis of a particular collection of illustrations.
However, in this delightful book Charlotte has produced something new in botanical art.
Written to engage art lovers, horticulturalists, botanists and aspiring artists, this book contains much to engage the enthusiast.
Charlotte has combined her unique experience of working closely with the Royal Horticultural Society’s picture panel with her extensive knowledge of the Lindley Library Collection. Skilfully, she has been able to give a comprehensive overview of the role played by the RHS in the development of botanical illustration, from its first purchase in 1806 to the present, together with an insight into the history of the botanical art awards.
By choosing gold medal winners, she has focused on artists that have been given the ultimate accolade in the field of botanical illustration in the UK.
Exquisite images have been chosen to compliment the carefully balanced and informative text. This allows the reader to move from the historical origins of the Society, and its link to botanic art, to contemporary artists and their work. In so doing the gradual improvement in quality of the finished pieces is obvious.
In the introduction, the original words of individuals involved in the history of the Society and the Lindley Collection, serve to show the passion and perseverance of the many people that campaigned to preserve and build this significant resource. Included is a clear progression and rationale for the introduction of art awards and a clarification of the criteria used in judging. Thus, those viewing plant images can use the definition, written by the society in 2006, to judge for themselves whether a piece of work fits the guidelines for botanical illustration. In this context it is useful to read Gillian Barlow’s reflections on her roles as both judge and artist.
In ‘The Artists’ section the quality of reproduction of the images is high and they have been carefully selected to offer a variety of subject matter and medium used. A nice touch is the personal reflections of individual artists on both the reasons for the species chosen and/or the techniques used. These insights are not only fascinating for all readers but will be particularly useful for aspiring artists.
Initially, I felt that a chronological listing of artists, relating to the date of the awarding their medal, would have served better to demonstrate the improvement in the quality of illustrations over time. However, with many of the artists having received more than one gold medal the alphabetical listing is more appropriate. There is a chronological list of gold medal winning artists from 1930 onwards in the appendix; this can be used to follow these changes. To this end it would have been useful to highlight the artists who have work included in the main body of the book, thus offering another layer of interest.
Overall, this exquisite book on Botanical Illustration - the Gold Medal Winners is a great addition to the library of any enthusiast interested in botanical art. After seeing this selection of the images in the Lindley Library Collection I look forward to the whole resource being digitised and available online.