(1909 - 1988)
The Flowering Amazon
Margaret Mee's lavish paintings of orchids and bromeliads from the Amazonian forests
represent more than the life and spirit of a talented artist drawn to adventure.
Her eloquent and precisely painted visions of the vanishing rainforest lay vibrant
testimony to the struggle between nature and commerce, thus working to preserve
the wild habitats she painted and loved. She is a twentieth-century embodiment of
the artist-explorer, with the added virtue of social consciousness. In this regard,
her work lays claim to not only artistic merit and scientific accuracy, but stands
as an historic witness to preserving a habitat rich in botanical diversity.
Born in 1909 near Chesham in southern England, she grew up among pastoral green
fields where her love of nature undoubtedly originated. Early in life, her interest
in art was apparent, fostered by her Aunt Nell, an illustrator of children's books.
Coming of age between the wars, she became politically involved, taking a stand
against fascism. She resumed her pursuit of art in 1947, acquiring masterful technical
facility while studying in England.
Called to Brazil in 1952 to attend the needs of her ailing sister, Catherine, she
and her husband, Greville, settled in Sao Paolo, where Mee taught art. She was impressed
by the incredible beauty of the local vegetation as they hiked in the coastal forests
nearby. During that time, she began to concentrate on painting plant portraits,
and in 1956 she embarked on her first journey into Amazonia. At the age of 46, she
initiated a perilous and adventurous new chapter in her life.
Mee's intricately painted plant portraits resulted in exhibitions at the Botanical
Institute of Sao Paolo, in Rio de Janeiro in 1958 and in London in 1960. She was
establishing her reputation as an outstanding, new botanical artist. In the ensuing
years, she worked with many notable botanists in the field, gaining greater insights
into the scientific aspects of her botanical subjects. These new perceptions provided
further sensitivity to both accuracy and artistic detail of the plants, allowing
for precise identification of species, while at the same time providing aesthetic
enjoyment in her artistic mastery of every nuance of the plant form.
Depicting many of her plant subjects against an elaborately composed pictorial background,
Mee preferred to work in gouache rather than water color. All of her paintings were
executed in the field, directly from nature as she witnessed it. Although part of
the twentieth-century experience, Mee fits an earlier tradition of botanical artists
and Amazonian explorers. Her work stands as one of the finest records of plants
and their habitats ever made.
Described in first-person accounts as a "frail, rather bird-like person," Margaret
Mee made fifteen arduous journeys into the wilds of the Amazon forest. In contrast
to her apparently delicate appearance, her painting kit included a .32 revolver.
During these difficult expeditions, she suffered malaria, infectious hepatitis and
nightly attacks by vampire bats, among other hardships. An intrepid explorer, she
became acquainted with the Amerindians and later brought international attention
to their cause. Her outspoken views on the Amerindians and conservation of the Amazonian
habitat never affected her popularity and prestige as an artist. Despite political
sensitivities in that country, she was awarded the Brazilian decoration of the Order
of the Southern Cross.
By the 1980's, Margaret Mee came to realize that it would be important to create
a collection of her Amazon paintings to serve as a record of what she perceived
to be an increasingly vanishing world. The collection, comprised of sixty paintings,
was to become permanently available to the public. She stopped selling her work
and proceeded to enlist friends in a fundraising campaign to purchase the collection
In 1988, on the eve of her Amazon Exhibition at Kew, Margaret Mee was tragically
killed in a car accident. It seemed sadly ironic that this adventurous woman should
be taken not in the uncharted trails along the Amazon, but on the roads of England.
However, her legacy of botanical art continues to speak to the world about preserving
the incredible life she explored in the Amazon forests.
We are pleased to present the Oppenheimer Kew Gardens Edition of
Margaret Mee's water color collection. These actual-size facsimiles are virtually
identical to the originals which are each unique and otherwise unattainable. Printing
with water colors on English water color paper, every detail and brush stroke are
faithfully revealed in the same brilliant articulate colors for which Mee's paintings
Images may be viewed in the
Strictly limited to 300 numbered sets.
Price range for individual prints: $600 - $1,200
Complete set of twenty-five prints: $10,000