In the mid-nineteenth-century, Botany was regularly taught to medical students. Because they did not yet have that invention known as the slide lecture, large illustrations of plants were instead hung from bent pins on fabric rollers. John Hutton Balfour, the Regius Keeper for 34 years (from 1845 to 1879) at the Royal Botanic Garden Ediburgh, commissioned well over 1000 such diagrams.
For the bicentenary of Hutton’s birth, Louise Bourgeois (Season 2) was invited to exhibit drawings and sculpture alongside these teaching diagrams at the Inverleith House on the garden grounds. As a young woman Bourgeois studied mathematics and her favorite geometrical form remains the ellipse, a shape with two centers that metaphorically relate to the cycles of life and the dualities of identity. For Nature Study, her concise drawings made in red gouache on white paper demonstrate a specific concern with motherhood, human nature, and the polarities of birth and death, growth and decay, separation and togetherness.
“Though widely divergent in time, purpose and style, these two bodies of work show curious formal affinities, and occasionally, touch on strikingly similar themes. Taken together, they form a dialogue that communicates a particularly strong and authentic fascination for the natural world – and for life itself.”
Nature Study is part of a series of exhibitions at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in which contemporary artists show together with works from the permanent collections. Previous exhibitions have featured Laura Owens (also paired with the Balfour collection) in 2000; Rudolf Stingel (with nineteenth-century botanical drawings by Indian artists) in 2006, and John Cage with Merce Cunningham (shown with early twentieth-century botanical drawings by Lilian Snelling) in 2007.
Nature Study with Louise Bourgeois runs until July 6th.