MEE, Margaret (1909-1988). Original gouache and watercolour over graphite, drawing of the orchid Catasetum Saccatum. Mato Grosso: ca 1962-1965

$ 18,000.00

Single leaf (13 x 9 2/8 inches). Original gouache and watercolour over graphite drawing on paper watermarked C.M. Fabriano - 100/100 cotone, of the orchid Catasetum Saccatum, annotated by Mee in pencil below the image "Catasetum Saccatum", above the location "Mato Grosso".

Provenance: from the collection of Margaret and Greville Mee; with Henry Sotheran Ltd, "Margaret Mee: works on paper and printed books", 2010, item 16.

A beautiful sketch from Mee's second expedition, to the Mato Grosso in 1962 and is associated with a sketch found in Mee's notebook from 1962-1965 of the Catasetum saccatum (cf. S. de Botton Brautigam, ed Margaret Mee, Rio de Janeiro: 2006, pages 252 and 356), and also the finished painting reproduced as the frontispiece to her Flowers of the Brazilian Forest, London: 1968, which is dated August 1963 and depicts a specimen collected on the Rio Alto Juruena in the northern Mato Grosso. 

In her notes accompanying a later painting of this beautiful orchid, Mee writes: "... the masculine flowers of the strangely beautiful plant are completely different from the female flowers, imitating dark bats with outspread wings. The long pendent stem supported more than fifteen blooms. The modest female flowers resemble the green hoods of elfins, growing on an erect stem. Both forms grow on the same plant and even from the same pseudo-bulb. Until charles Darwin pronounced them to be the same species, they were considered to be different platns" (Flores do Amazonas. Flowers of the Amazon, Sao Cristovao, Rio de Janeiro, 1980, no. 16). 

"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