Marianne North was born in Hastings in 1830, the daughter of Frederick North MP. At an early age she revealed a talent for drawing and after the death of her father in 1869, devoted the remainder of her life to flower painting.
Miss North travelled widely, often enduring considerable discomfort, in order to paint flowers in their natural habitats. Although she received no formal training in drawing and painting, and was somewhat unconventional in her methods, her work achieved a high level of artistic competence. She painted quickly, often completing a picture in a day.
In 1871, she undertook the first of her many journeys, visiting the United States, Canada and Jamaica. She returned to England for a brief period, before setting off for Brazil where she stayed for 8 months and completed over 100 paintings. In 1875, she crossed the American continent on her way to Japan, returning home in 1877 via Sarawak, Java and Sri Lanka. Six months later, she travelled to India, where she stayed for 15 months and produced over 200 paintings.
After a successful exhibition of her paintings in a London gallery in 1879, Miss North conceived the idea of presenting them to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. She also generously offered to provide a suitable building in which to display them and asked her friend, the architectural historian, James Fergusson, to design the Gallery. Then, at the suggestion of Charles Darwin, Miss North visited Australia and New Zealand. On her return she spent a year arranging the paintings in the Gallery, which was opened to the public in June 1882.
Miss North continued to embark on further journeys. Just 2 months after the opening of her Gallery, she travelled to South Africa, where many more paintings were undertaken. In 1883, she was in the Seychelles and in 1884, despite ill-health, she was painting plants in Chile. These additional works were added to the Gallery, which today houses 832 of her oil paintings.
Marianne North retired to Alderley, Gloucestershire, where she died on 30 August 1890. The centenary of her death was commemorated in the book Marianne North at Kew Gardens.