Flora Japonica

By Jo Phillips

Since the beginning of the 21st Century, Japan has seen an increasing fascination with botanical art with both professional and amateur artists becoming inspired by botanical illustrations. These artists have organised themselves into regional circles and nationwide associations to spread their work. This September, the new exhibition “Flora Japonica” opened at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Gardens, known for their scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development around the world, are a scientific organisation featuring outstanding collections of plants. The Kew Gardens were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated their 250th anniversary in 2009.

The Gardens will host the “Flora Japonica” exhibition until the 5th of March 2017. Celebrating the Japanese native flora, the exhibition shows its influence on horticulture in the western world. The watercolours used for the artworks have been painted from specimens collected all over Japan or directly within Kew Gardens. Beautiful artefacts from the Economic Botany Collection, which shows the extent of human uses of plants around the world, will also be on display. Furthermore, the exhibition also features works never before seen outside Japan, such as historic drawings and paintings by some of Japan’s most important botanists and artists like Dr Tomitaro Makino (1863-1957) and Edo period artists Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato. After the end of the exhibition in March 2017, Flora Japonica will move to the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, and Tokyo University Museum. For more information, visit their website here.

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In celebration of the “Flora Japonica”, Kew has published a book with the same title which features 80 botanical paintings specially commissioned for the exhibition. Written by Masumi Yamnaka and Martyn Rix, the stunning book explains everything about Japanese botanical art and features the works of 34 of the country’s best contemporary artists. There is a text about each of the drawn plants which includes its natural history, a botanic description as well as the details of origin. Furthermore, the book features biographies of all the contributing artists and in the introduction, Professor Hideaki Ohba from the University of Tokyo explores the history of Japanese botanical illustration, taking a look at the work of the botanist and illustrator Tomitaro Makino. You can purchase the book here.

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