Lady Tankerville exhibition

Posted on 02nd March 2023 | in Community

June Watson at the exhibition

An exhibition of previously unseen watercolour illustrations by a trailblazing Northumberland artist and scientist will finally see her accomplishments recognised.

The Lady Tankerville exhibition at County Hall, Morpeth, shines a light on the work of Emma, 4th Countess of Tankerville, (1752 -1836) and her leading role in 18th Century botanical research.

Researched and curated by June Watson, Doctoral Candidate, at Northumbria University, the exhibition harks back to an era when women were treated as little more than adornments and chattels.

As horticulture was deemed an acceptable pastime for women Lady Tankerville found an outlet for her curious mind by working behind the scenes as a botanist and ‘secret’ scientist.

Recently discovered reports on the reverse of her illustrations describe everything from the potential medical uses of the plants to their suitability for textile dyes for commercial use.

As a forerunner to the modern-day feminist, she was seen to pose a threat to the establishment but despite making a substantial contribution to 18th century science she was later airbrushed from history.
Emma spent much of her married life at Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, from where she travelled to Madeira to create the drawings on show at Northumberland County Hall.

June said: “It is obvious that her botanical drawings were a labour of love. This was a time when women weren’t allowed to attend university but Lady Tankerville was determined and found a way to share what she learned through her networks and connections.“I feel privileged to be the person to do this work and help gain such a pioneer the acknowledgement she deserves.”

Councillor Jeff Watson, Northumberland County Council Cabinet Member for Culture, Heritage and Libraries, said ”This painstaking research has ensured that Lady Tankerville’s legacy will live on after being hidden away and ignored for so long.

“I believe our residents will be interested to see the paintings – which are astonishingly detailed and beautiful – and to learn more about one of Northumberland’s true visionaries.”

June’s in-depth research into Lady Tankerville and her family was supported by Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn, where an extensive collection of the family’s papers has been held since the 1970s, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew has owned the full Tankerville collection of 648 botanical illustrations since 1932. They are held in a special temperature-controlled room due to their condition. Kew hopes the exhibition will raise awareness of the need to acquire funds for their conservation.

June will also talk about her work at County Hall on Friday, March 3 (2pm to 3pm); Tuesday, March 21 (1pm to 2pm) and Monday, March 27 (2pm to 3pm). The exhibition runs until March 31.

A booklet written by June with details and images of all the plants in the exhibition will be available at the talks for £2.99.

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2 thoughts on "Lady Tankerville exhibition"

  1. L Garfield says:

    Trying to contact June Watson.

    Dear Ms Watson, we have read with great interest about your research and exhibition regarding Lady Tankerville and her botanical drawings.

    On the one hand I am delighted to hear of yet another unknown lady scientist of former years. On the other hand, my friend and I have been to Madeira a number of times and have had interesting discussions there with one of the historical museums regarding another lady artist of note (Emily Genevieve Smith, Quinta das Cruzes). We feel sure they would be interested to hear of another artist who painted whilst in Madeira. We are visiting this coming May, and think it would be useful to take a copy of your booklet with us, to show them.

    Unfortunately we live in Cardiff, a long way away from Northumberland, and would be delighted to purchase two copies of your booklet on the exhibition, which we understand includes copies of Lady Tankerville’s drawings.

    Please, how may we PURCHASE these copies?

    With many thanks, L Garfield, Pentyrch, Cardiff

  2. June Watson says:

    Thank you for kind comments. I will be in touch as requested. I look forward to hearing more about your own interests regarding botanical women residing in Madeira. Kind regards, June Watson

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