Single leaf (25 4/8 x 18 6/8 inches). Original gouache and watercolour over graphite drawing on paper of the magnificent flowering Bromeliad Aechmea tocantina, annotated by Mee in pencil beneath the image "Aechmea tocantina / Proc: Mato Grosso, / Rio Alto Juruena, Mun. / Aripuana. Jul, - Ag. 1962", and signed by Mee lower right.
Provenance: with Henry Sotheran Ltd, "Margaret Mee: works on paper and printed books", 2010, item 15.
A superb completed gouache of the splendid flowering Aechmea tocantina, found throughout South America, first discovered on the Rio Tocantins, the easternmost major river of southern Amazonia, by the British Botanist Hugh Weddell (1819-1877); Ruth L.A. Stiff comments, "Widespread in South America, Aechmea tocantina can be found at altitudes ranging between 100 and 700 meters in Venezuela, Guiana, Bolivia and Amazonian Brazil, where it grows epiphytically to a height of one to two meters" (Margaret Mee. Return to the Amazon, London: 1996, page 92).
This particular example was collected by Mee at Aripuana on the banks of the Rio Alto Juruena, during her second expedition into the Amazon in 1962. She recalled the river thus: "I could not sleep for thinking and remembering what I had seen during the day along the Alto Juruena: the strong dangerous currents which only experienced men could handle in a canoe; herons on the numerous little islands in the river; on the sandy shore, minute purple and yellow flowers; shrubs full of berries and lichens amongst which grew orchids and tillsandias, and the aggressive Aechmea tocantina, armed with large black thorns" (Margaret Mee's Amazon. Woodbridge and Kew: 2004, page 70).
"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