Botanical art, the beautifully exquisite celebration of the natural world blending art and science in technical and artistic perfection, is a challenging and demanding art form. The ancient market town of Horsham has been the home of some of this country’s leading exponents who have not only developed the eye, brush and palette, but have inspired a new generation of local artists. Now, in 2019, coming together to create the stunning exhibition Garden of Botanical Art at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, celebrating the work of nine artists they have agreed to work, inform and collaborate to promote and develop this wonderful art form.
Horsham born, Jill Coombs, the doyenne of the School, has been perfecting the art for over forty years, creating award winning floral portraits that have captivated collectors from around the world as well as being acquired by the leading botanical organisations. Jill’s work can be seen in the Dr Shirley Sherwood Collection, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, The Royal Horticultural Society, Chelsea Physic Garden and the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA. The Royal Horticultural Society has also awarded Jill the Gold medal three times for her watercolours. Jill has also produced paintings for the Highgrove Florilegium, for The Prince of Wales Trust set up to record plants in Highgrove Gardens.
Jill’s enthusiasm and teaching ability inspired other artists to take up the challenge, including Storrington based artist Suzanne Merrikin who has been awarded the Silver Gilt by the Royal Horticultural Society for her watercolours. Leigh Ann Gale, who was awarded medals by the RHS and the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, South Africa, not only teaches and practises her art, but has also put pen to paper writing highly regarded books to guide the novice to achieve more. Leigh Ann’s work is held in the permanent collection at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh, USA, The Florilegium Society at Sydney Botanic Gardens, Hampton Court Palace Archives, Nymans Florilegium, and private collections. One of her students is the talented and modest Hazel Barnard who is also a member of the School.
Linda Lasham and Heather Glenny are two other talented members of the school, which also includes award winning artist and tutor Alice Harman from Steyning who has been awarded silver-gilt and two silver medals from the Royal Horticultural Society as well as being a fellow member of the Society of Botanical Artists. All of their works are held in museums and private collections.
The School, whilst focusing on the watercolour, is open to members who exhibit the high standard of botanical artists but in a different medium. Deborah Crago uses pencil to capture the scientific and artistic quality that botanical art encourages, whilst Eleanor Coate has the distinction of being awarded a Gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society for her photographic portraits of flowers and also achieved the Associate Distinction from the Royal Photographic Society with a panel of these botanical prints. The photographs deliberately follows the tradition of 17th and 18th century botanical art; a tradition that Horsham School of Botanical art celebrates in the 21st century.
A Garden of Botanical Art at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery opened on 6 July and runs until 14 September 2019. Part of the Horsham District’s Year of Culture, it not only celebrates the outstanding botanical art of these nine artists, but also the rich heritage of gardens and horticulture. To accompany the exhibition, a calendar featuring the exquisite art will be produced as a legacy of the exhibition and available to purchase from the Museum throughout its run. The exhibition is the first flowering of the School, which will grow and flourish as the artists collaboratively work to create a deeper, richer and nuanced understanding of a stunning art that glorifies flora.