Duke’s sister paints Chatsworth plants

Watercolours of the plants and flowers at Chatsworth by the artist and gardener Emma Tennant, who is the Duke’s sister, will be exhibited at the Derbyshire stately home next year.

The exhibition takes its inspiration from the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s plant list, unearthed from the Chatsworth archives by Emma with some of the plants found still growing at Chatsworth. Emma sought out and grew some of the missing specimens from seed and found others growing elsewhere to enable her to include as many Chatsworth specialities as possible.

The famous Cavendish banana and the Grapes Muscat of Alexandria are just two of the botanical subjects grown at Chatsworth that feature in the exhibition which is entitled – Emma Tennant at Chatsworth: the Duke’s sister paints favourite plants at home and away.

The Duke said: “We’re delighted to be able to stage this exhibition which celebrates my sister Emma as an artist, gardener, botanist and historian. What a wonderful way to pay tribute and record some of the huge variety of plants and flowers introduced by the 6th Duke and carefully grown here under the supervision of Joseph Paxton. I’m sure many visitors will enjoy viewing the paintings.”

One of the paintings, a particular favourite of the Duchess, features the Rhododendron barbatum, which will be in flower in March at Chatsworth as the exhibition opens.

A keen gardener, Emma Tennant began painting as a way of recording what was happening in her garden, in the tradition of the botanical illustrator before the advent of photography. Now her works are widely collected by gardeners, art collectors and artists alike.

One of the UK’s leading artist-designers David Gentleman said: “Her fresh limpid watercolours, with their thin pen line, have a light touch, but the paintings are careful, made with curiosity, intensity and love. She combines botanical accuracy with a free and lively line.”

Emma Tennant used to describe herself as a gardener who painted, but now sees herself as a painter who gardens.

She said: “Painting is the final process of having grown something from seed. Painting makes me think about the act of gardening. Artists conduct an intense but unspoken dialogue with their subject, be it a landscape, a still life, a person or a flower. Gardeners, similarly, communicate with the plants that they grow.”

The paintings are accompanied by the artist’s detailed notes about the plants, and items from the Chatsworth archive, and pay tribute to the famous plant hunters to whom gardeners of today owe so much.

The exhibition is in the New Gallery from March 24 until June 30, and is included with admission to the house. For more information, ticketing options and online booking, visit http://www.chatsworth.org