MEE, Margaret (1909-1988). Fine original gouache and watercolour over graphite, drawing of the West Indian Tufted Airplant. Brazil: 1968.

$ 18,000.00

Single leaf, float-mounted and framed (13 x 9 inches; framed size: 23 x 19 inches). Original gouache and watercolour over graphite drawing on paper watermarked Rafaello Fabriano, of the magnificent flowering West Indian Tufted Airplant, or Guzmania monostachia, annotated as such by Mee in pencil beneath the image and signed by her lower left. 

Provenance: with Henry Sotheran Ltd, "Margaret Mee: works on paper and printed books", 2010, item 14.

A superb completed gouache of the splendid flowering West Indian Tufted Airplant, or Guzmania monostachia, which is an epiphytic bromeliad found in Brazil, the West Indies, and Florida (where it is threatened with extinction and considered endangered.

This painting was included in Mee's Flowers of the Brazilian Forests. London: The Tryon Gallery, 1968, as the frontispiece for one of the deluxe copies of the edition of 100 copies, signed by Mee, with an original gouache painting, and bound in vellum. Mee's magnificent botanical paintings illustrated in that book, most based on specimens collected during her own expeditions, includes several of plants either recently discovered (one by Mee herself) or never previously illustrated, as explained in the preface by Sir George Taylor, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, who compares Mee's paintings favorably to the work of her predecessor C.F. P. von Martius, author of the Flora brasiliensis (1840-1906). 17 plant families are represented, with each section introduced by one of 10 different botanist contributors. The plates are accompanied by detailed part-scientific, part-anecdotal descriptions by the artist. Some are quite poignant, for Mee experienced first-hand the tremendous losses to the world's ecological resources that began occurring in the 20th century. Noting, for example, that in previous years she was able to find the rare Brazilian orchid Laelia purpurata "in the swampy forests around Ubatuba," she deplores the fact that "these wonderful coastal forests are being steadily destroyed, often for use as firewood! With them perish untold numbers of animals and plants. So the advance of civilisation and industrialization proceeds at the cost of the total destruction of all that is most beautiful and precious in creation" (text to Plate 13). 

"Unlike Amazon botanical artists before her, Margaret worked entirely from living plants. Her fifteen expeditions into the interior, mostly to Amazonia, involved travelling and living under the most primitive conditions. She would draw at night by torchlight to capture rare nocturnal flowers, and this immediacy gave her paintings an accuracy, depth, and colour unrivalled by her predecessors. Her travels coincided with the beginning of the commercial exploitation of the forest, and she expressed her fury at the damage caused to the land and its peoples" (DNB).

Margaret Mee first visited Brazil in 1952 in order to care for her sister Catherine, who was ill. She soon settled there with her husband Greville Mee and it was a few years later that she made her first expedition up the Amazon. Over the next 32 years she made a number of further trips up the Amazon and in coastal areas of Brazil, some of them lasting for four months. During these years, she continued to paint and draw what she saw and kept diaries of her travels, later published. In 1988, shortly after completing another Amazon trip, Mee came to England to lecture to the Royal Geographic Society and to attend the opening of an exhibition of her paintings at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. During this visit, she was tragically killed in a car crash. Catalogued by Kate Hunter