August 15, 2022

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Book Review: Indian Botanical Art by Martyn Rix

Looking for gift ideas for gardeners or lovers of plants?

Sara Walker reviews Indian Botanical Art, an illustrated history by Martyn Rix, published by Kew Publishing, hardback, RRP £25. Available directly from Kew Gardens online shop.

Cover image (c) Kew Publishing 2021

I do love a good coffee table book, and this unusual volume certainly fits the criteria. It’s beautifully presented and, as per the title, lavishly illustrated. According to the foreword, the 18th century saw an increase in interest in the natural world and European travellers were very keen to catalogue plants in Asia. As a result, Indian artists were commissioned to create accurate drawings of plants, particularly those used for food or medicine. Gradually, these drawings became fashionable as art.

The book is stuffed with gorgeous full colour plate reproductions of some of these drawings. If you’re familiar with botanical art, which often shows the plants at different stages of growth and includes leaves and flowers laid out flat like paper dolls, then these will look familiar. Everything has an unfamiliar twist, though – I’m a fairly keen gardener but I couldn’t recognise the vast majority of the plants! Opening the book at random, I could see references to spider flower, Himalayan Rhubarb and lacquer plant – I’m pretty sure there are none in the garden here!

As well as information about the plants themselves, there’s a history of how the art was commissioned, the artists themselves and the various styles and methods employed. I think it would appeal on a great many levels. It’s a pretty, colourful thing to flick through as the pictures are beautiful. It would be of interest to gardeners, artists and anyone interested in the history of India. Personally I’d have been delighted to get this as a Christmas present, and I think it’s the kind of book where you’ll learn something new every time you open it.