Marianne North, botanical artist and traveller, painted flowers from an early age. During her late adolescent years (1847-1850) she resided on the European continent. During the eighteen-sixties she toured through Europe and the Middle East with her father and after his death in 1869 decided to paint the flora of remote countries. Her father's friends included Sir Joseph Hooker*, who gave her support and recognition during her later travels. In 1871-1873 she visited North America, Jamaica and Brazil; then followed a journey around the world (1873-1877) to California, Japan, Borneo, Java and Ceylon. During 1878-1879 she made an extensive tour of India. On the suggestion of Charles Darwin* she travelled to Australia in 1880, visited New Zealand and Borneo, and returned via California. Her paintings were presented to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, where she furthermore funded a gallery in which her work could be displayed. The gallery was opened on 9 July 1882. A catalogue, The gallery of Marianne North's paintings of plants and their homes, was printed for the occasion, of which 2000 copies were sold. Eventually the Marianne North Gallery housed over 800 paintings. Sixteen of these were painted in Natal and are reproduced in McCracken & McCracken (1990); others were painted in the Cape Colony.
Shortly after the opening of her gallery North travelled to South Africa. Arriving in Cape Town in August 1882 she spent about two weeks at Wynberg, stayed at the farm Groote Post near Malmesbury in September, spent a few days in Stellenbosch, and on 10 October travelled by train to Tulbach. After visiting Michell's Pass, Ceres, Bainskloof, Wellington, and Worcester she continued her train journey to Beaufort West, then the end of the line. From there she travelled to Aberdeen Road, and by train to Port Elizabeth. Following the recommendation of Russell Hallack* she spent some time near Van Stadens Pass, some 37 km west of Port Elizabeth, where she was much impressed by the scenery and flora. This was followed by a visit to Port Alfred on 6 January 1883 after which she travelled via Grahamstown, Fort Beaufort and Queenstown to King William's Town and on to Port St Johns. On 11 April she left for Durban by boat. She stayed with Mrs Katherine Saunders* at Tongaat for a few days and then with Bishop Colenso, whom she did not like, near Pietermaritzburg. Leaving from Durban on 22 May 1883 she returned to England by sea via Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, arriving on 17 June.
Miss North's last journey took her to Chili in 1884-1885, where she went specifically to paint the puzzle-monkey pine. Some of her experiences on this journey were related with humour in the magazine Pall Mall. An unmarried lady of singular charm and quiet dignity, she was a single-minded painter and paid scant attention to the people or the politics of the regions she visited. However, she also collected some plants and discovered six new species, notably the pitcher plant, Nepenthes northeana, in Borneo. The genus Northea (from the Seychelles) was named after her by Hooker and several other species which she first made known in Europe also commemorate her. One of these is Kniphofia northiae, which she painted in Grahamstown and brought to Kew where it flowered.
She retired to Alderley, Gloucestershire, in 1886. In the latter half of 1888 she became ill with a liver complaint, but had partially recovered by the middle of 1889. At that time she was visited by her old friend and fellow artist, Mary E. Barber*, whom she had met in South Africa. North's health deteriorated again and she died the next year. An account of her travels, Recollections of a happy life, being the autobiography of Marianne North (London, 1892) was edited by her sister and published posthumously in two volumes. This was followed by Some further recollections of a happy life, selected from the journals of Marianne North, chiefly between the years 1859 and 1869 (London, 1893). Her travel memoirs, including reproductions of some of her paintings, were re-published under the title A vision of Eden: The life and work of Marianne North in 1980.