Marianne North, daughter of MP Frederick North, had an interest in travel and was blessed with a natural artistic talent. She travelled widely painting hundreds of plants and natural habitats as she moved from country to country. In 1879 she offered to build a gallery to display her life's work and in 1881 the Marianne North Gallery at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, designed by architectural historian James Ferguson was completed.
Minor additions of a porch and smaller rear gallery were made in 1886; otherwise the general layout has remained mostly unchanged. However, the building was beginning to look tired, the original Victorian tiled floor had been replaced with yellow terrazzo in the 1950s, a number of re-decorations had taken place, and the lack of a stable environment was starting to affect the delicate paintings. In 2005, The Royal Botanic Gardens approached architects and historic building consultants Donald Insall Associates to produce a conservation plan in collaboration with The Royal Botanic Gardens' conservation department for the restoration of the Gallery and the paintings. This plan was closely followed by a design report in 2006 and successful planning and listed building consent applications in 2007.
Funded with a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £1.8m and supported by funding from other organisations such as the Foundation's Sponsor a Painting initiative, work to the gallery began in July 2008 which included the installation of an air handling unit to stabilise temperature and humidity and new fibre optic lighting to the paintings and Marianne North hand-painted cornice. In addition to these modern services, each of the 832 paintings was removed, conserved by hand and re-hung on the walls on new bracket fixings detailed to increase air circulation and reduce the damaging effects of air moisture, a new floor was laid to closely match the original Victorian design and the Gallery was redecorated to the original colour scheme following historic paint sampling.
Robert Davies, Architect at Donald Insall Associates comments, "There are always challenges associated with fitting modern services into an historic building without them being noticeable. A good example of this is the new secondary glazing required to seal the internal environment for the air handling system to work effectively, while increasing the u-values to satisfy modern Building Regulations. This has also provided a UV barrier to protect the paintings without affecting the appearance of the existing timber framed windows with their original etched glass. We have specified Storm Windows on a number of historic buildings in the past and felt that their products would be suitable for the Marianne North Gallery."
"Because of the very slim profile of the Storm panels and the ability to colour match them to the specific green of the original frames they are almost invisible" states Robert.
Martin Walford, Director at Storm Windows continues, "We installed twenty-three of our slimline units, all UV filmed and powder coated in 'Carriage Green'. They were not straightforward to fit as we had to work around the other services and we had to be careful to allow for the fitting of blinds, which further cut down glare from the sun and allow proper viewing of the paintings."
"The renovation of the building is now complete with the conservation of the paintings due for completion in October 2010," says Robert. "When working on historic buildings such as the Marianne North Gallery, it is vital we strike a careful balance between the conservation of the building and the paintings and the requirements for modern systems to maintain their longevity. We feel that this has been achieved in the Marianne North Gallery and we hope that the public will now be able to continue to appreciate this wonderful building and the unique collection of paintings it houses long into the future."