MEE, Margaret (1909-1988). Original gouache and watercolour over graphite, drawing of the orchid Sobralia Sp. Rio Urupadi Maues Amazonas: ca. 1972.

$ 5,800.00

Single leaf of a field sketchbook (12 x 8 4/8 inches). Original gouache and watercolour over graphite, drawing of the orchid Sobralia Sp., now known, after Margaret Mee herself, as Sobralia margaritae, annotated by Mee in pencil in the left-hand margin "Sobralia sp.", above the location "Rio Urupadi Maués Am[azonas].", and further inscribed "petals cream / shadows green / upper sepal green (pale olive) / labelli -- / cream / purple (red) / turn over & lines / 'seatless' yellow.", "Igarapé of Rio Amazonas?", and "m.n. + 1/3" (pale waterstain lower left).

Provenance: from the collection of Margaret and Greville Mee; with Henry Sotheran Ltd, "Margaret Mee: works on paper and printed books", 2010, item 21

Mee's sketch of this beautiful plant is particularly early as it was not named after her until 1977 by Guido F.J. Pabst. Mee discovered this plant on her eighth journey, through the Cradle of the Desert, in 1972. Navigating the Rio Maues, Mee's pilot Severino "found his way into a tributary of the river, Rio Amena, and thence into a lovely igarape [ie small stream] where low palms growing in the water covered it with a blue haze and from their midst rose trees like columns in a Gothic cathedral. I scanned these trees for epiphytes, and on one of the tallest saw, with excitement, a huge wreath of orchids encircling the trunk. it was a Sobrelia, without a doubt, and a giant of that genus. Bento, in his enthusiam, would have thrown down the whole clump had I not restrained him, stipulating a maximum of three plants. They were without flowers, but later it flowered and was found to be a new species and was named Sobrelia margaritae [by Guido Pabst]" (Flores do Amazonas. Flowers of the Amazon, Sao Cristovao, rio de Janeiro, 1980, no. 17). 

Mee's completed painting of the orchid is also dated 1977, and is illustrated on page 232 of "Margaret Mee In Search of Flowers of the Amazon Forests", 1988, and reproduced as here, in Ruth L.A. Stiff's Margaret Mee. Return to the Amazon, London: 1996, page 140.

"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