REVIEW IN THE BOTANICAL ARTIST - DEC. '07
Reviewed by Susan Rubin.
In the search for the most detailed, accurate, composed, and perfect, we often forget that so many paintings were produced by untrained observers of their gardens and surroundings, simply expressing their admiration for nature and the beauty of the flowers in their view. Charlotte Hills Beasley was just such an artist, and her wonderful, spontaneous paintings find an audience in this newly published collection of her work.
“Charlotte Hills Beasley was my great-grandmother.” The opening line of the introduction speaks to the intensely personal nature of the publication of this charming book. Dr. David Beasley, the writer and publisher, introduces us to this delightful Victorian lady and shares his family’s legacy of botanical art. He chose to publish the paintings as a portfolio, with each high-quality 11x14” print easily removed for framing. Apart from the introduction and brief comments from Jim Cruise, the botanist who identified the plants, the paintings speak for themselves. Charlotte Hills Beasley (1835-1906) took up painting in 1879, and completed over fifty floral works and nine of insects by 1882. She turned her interest to depicting the individual plants in her extensive gardens. Noted Canadian botanist Jim Cruise says, “Charlotte Beasley was, without question, an extremely gifted painter. Her flowers are drawn with such accuracy and care as to make identification in most cases positive.” With no training in either science or art, she shows a vivid use of color and a flair for observation of detail that is truly remarkable. Her attention to venation and handling of difficult flower forms like Iris germanica demonstrate this dedication to her subjects.
The reader is in for a treat with these paintings. A little bit art appreciator, a little bit detective, I found myself puzzling over Charlotte’s materials and methods. Some of the pieces are transparent watercolor, like the Convolvulus japonica, showing a delicacy of washes and blending. Others, like the Trillium sp., show an application of watercolor as solid as acrylic paint, with an abstract depiction of the garden floor. What we may lose in scientific precision, we gain in exuberance of color and mass. I appreciate her adventurous compositions, as in “Convolvulus, Purple Wake Robins” in which she pushed the subject off the edge of the page in three directions, and the almost abstract “Indian Pipe,” a stark white plant shown against a winered background. The last nine pages of the portfolio present a special treat. Paintings of butterflies, bees, dragonflies and spiders are carefully rendered and reminiscent of the early sketches by Charlotte’s contemporary, Beatrix Potter. My first impression of the portfolio was that the paintings were somewhat primitive, lacking the sophisticated perspective and technique of other artists. As I looked more carefully, I saw beautiful paintings by a self-trained artist with a genuine appreciation for her subjects. This book is moving tribute to a dedicated botanical artist, and an inspiration to remember why we do this work.
The Botanical Artist Volume 13, Issue 4- December 2007 Page 17