Ray­mond Booth

Artist and plants­man

Yorkshire Post - - NEWS -

RAY­MOND BOOTH, who has died aged 85, was a botan­i­cal artist and plants­man of in­ter­na­tional renown but so reclu­sive and ob­ses­sively ded­i­cated was he, so in­dif­fer­ent to public recog­ni­tion, that he was lit­tle known in his na­tive county.

His Leeds house (where none of his own work was vis­i­ble) gave no clue that here lived and worked the doyen of Bri­tish botan­i­cal artists, although the sharp-eyed might have de­duced from his books and from the in­nu­mer­able or­chids and other rare plants be­ing nur­tured in his gar­den and green­houses, that he was a for­mi­da­ble plants­man.

Born in Leeds to work­ing-class par­ents, he won a schol­ar­ship to Leeds Col­lege of Art in 1946, grad­u­at­ing in 1953 af­ter study in­ter­rupted by Na­tional Ser­vice dur­ing 1948-9, spent mostly in Egypt.

His fas­ci­na­tion with the nat­u­ral world and rejection of modernism caused con­ster­na­tion; his teach­ers and fel­low stu­dents called it ‘ridicu­lous’ and ‘a dis­grace’ and he showed his work only to his par­ents.

Given a dif­fer­ent back­ground and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, he later re­flected, he would prob­a­bly have be­come a plant sci­en­tist but he pur­sued his ob­ser­va­tions from na­ture, of­ten from plants he him­self had grown, in oils on board and pa­per, al­ways to ac­tual size and with ex­quis­ite at­ten­tion to char­ac­ter, form, tex­ture and colour.

On leav­ing art school he was found to be suf­fer­ing from TB; a spell in a sana­to­rium en­abled him to de­velop his botan­i­cal stud­ies and he soon be­gan to sub­mit work to ex­hi­bi­tions, in­clud­ing the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety, where they at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Dr Harold Fletcher, then Di­rec­tor of the RHS gar­dens at Wis­ley.

Some of his stud­ies be­gan to be re­pro­duced in gar­den­ing jour­nals and in­di­vid­ual works were ex­hib­ited at Walker’s Gal­leries, New Bond Street, Lon­don. Later, the Fine Art So­ci­ety rep­re­sented him, re­sult­ing in a re­la­tion­ship last­ing over 50 years from 1962 with one­man shows tak­ing place in 1975, 1982, 1991, 1993, 2000, 2007 and 2011.

A per­fec­tion­ist, he worked slowly, de­vel­op­ing both won­der­fully bal­anced stud­ies of in­di­vid­ual plants and an­i­mals and densely worked close-up land­scapes in which wood­land and mead­ows, pop­u­lated by fox, hare, rab­bit or birds, ac­quire a poetic qual­ity through his sen­si­tiv­ity to sea­son, weather and time of day.

Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, his first con­tact with Leeds Mu­se­ums was through the nat­u­ral science col­lec­tions where cu­ra­tors John Armitage and Adrian Nor­ris, stored and lent owls, rab­bits and hares from the deep freeze for his stud­ies; sev­eral owl stud­ies were lent to an ex­hi­bi­tion on birds of prey at the City Mu­seum dur­ing the early 1970s.

Grad­u­ally he was coaxed into pub­li­ca­tion, con­tribut­ing stud­ies to B L Urquhart’s The Camelia in 1956 and cul­mi­nat­ing in his stun­ning, large-scale im­ages of Ja­panese flora com­ple­ment­ing Don Elick’s text in Japon­ica Mag­nifica (1992), with some ex­hib­ited in a US tour in 19923. Pey­ton Skip­with (Fine Art So­ci­ety) pub­lished Ray­mond Booth: An Artist’s Gar­den in 2000 (Call­away Edi­tions, New York) and Jean Booth pro­duced Booth’s Win­ter Di­ary with Ray­mond’s RECLU­SIVE: Ray­mond Booth was one of the great­est botan­i­cal artists of his age, his work hav­ing ‘in­ten­sity and strange­ness’.

text and at­mo­spheric land­scapes, na­ture com­po­si­tions and sin­gle plant stud­ies, all de­riv­ing from his life­time’s sat­u­ra­tion in the coun­try­side a stone’s throw from Leeds, no­tably in Adel Woods.

He very rarely at­tended ex­hi­bi­tions of his own work but em­i­nent col­lec­tors, such as Alan and Jane Clark, queued in Bond Street on his ex­hi­bi­tion preview days for a chance to pur­chase. Shirley Sher­wood (who formed a great botan­i­cal art col­lec­tion and es­tab­lished the Shirley Sher­wood Gallery at Kew), re­called: “My first in­tro­duc­tion to Ray­mond

Booth’s orig­i­nal art was stand­ing on a chilly pave­ment out­side the Fine Art So­ci­ety… queue­ing to get in at 7.30 in the morn­ing. I could hardly be­lieve that I was six­teenth in line..”

His work is in pri­vate col­lec­tions in Europe, Amer­ica, Ja­pan and the Mid­dle East as well as a num­ber of Bri­tish public col­lec­tions.

De­spite his in­ter­na­tional fol­low­ing, Ray­mond Booth’s work was al­most un­known in York­shire. A se­lec­tion of his stud­ies of Ja­panese flora for Japon­ica Mag­nifica was shown at Lother­ton Hall in 1992 but it was not un­til 2002 that he had a full ret­ro­spec­tive at Leeds City Art Gallery. He and his wife Jean were per­suaded to at­tend the open­ing to see his achieve­ments cel­e­brated.

In a dra­matic turn of events many of the works by this shy, very pri­vate man were pur­chased dur­ing a whirl­wind visit to the show by the Amer­i­can thriller writer and col­lec­tor Pa­tri­cia Cornwell, who also pre­sented a fine study of an Amer­i­can plant, Vollmer’s leop­ard lily, Lil­ium Pardal­inum, to the Leeds col­lec­tions (this is cur­rently on show in the Art Gallery).

Ray­mond Booth was above all a great recorder of the nat­u­ral world who could trans­late his ob­ser­va­tions of the York­shire coun­try­side, its fauna and flora, into oil stud­ies and com­po­si­tions of a beauty and in­ten­sity ri­valling the great­est of his Vic­to­rian pre­de­ces­sors.

The ori­gins of botan­i­cal art go back to late An­tiq­uity and it was very fash­ion­able dur­ing the Vic­to­rian pe­riod. When he be­gan work it was sim­ply con­sid­ered a very old-fash­ioned art­form, but is now much more widely ap­pre­ci­ated for its in­her­ent beauty, skill and pre­ci­sion with a num­ber of hugely gifted prac­ti­tion­ers round the world.

Ray­mond Booth is recog­nised as one of the great­est; Sir Roy Strong, for­mer di­rec­tor of the V&A, com­mented on how his work func­tioned both as a sci­en­tif­i­cally ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tive study and as a paint­ing in its own right hav­ing ‘an in­ten­sity and strange­ness about it’.

His densely worked na­ture com­po­si­tions, which have a slightly sur­real qual­ity, are equally sought-af­ter.

He re­ceived doughty sup­port and com­pan­ion­ship from his wife, Jean, who sur­vives him; long-time friends af­ter they met at Gadsby’s artists’ ma­te­ri­als shop in Leeds where she worked, they mar­ried in 1991.

(BCP), 10am – Matins, 11.15am – Sung Eucharist and Holy Baptism, 3.30pm – Even­song,

10.45am – All-Age Wor­ship, 5.30pm – Said Evening Prayer or Com­pline.

9.30am – Mass (sung), 11am – Mass (sung), 6pm – Mass.

9.15am – Holy Com­mu­nion, (BCP), 10.30am – Choral Eucharist (CW Or­der 1), 6.30pm – Choral Even­song.

7.45am – Litany, 8am – Holy Com­mu­nion (Or­der 2), 9.30am – Sung Eucharist (Or­der 1), 11.15am – Matins, 12.30pm – Holy Com­mu­nion (Or­der 1), 3.45 – Even­song,

8am – Eucharist, 9.30am – Matins, 10.30am – Sung Eucharist, 12.30pm – Eucharist, 5.30pm – Even­song.

8am – Holy Com­mu­nion, 10.30am – Fam­ily Com­mu­nion.

8am – Holy Com­mu­nion, 10am – Sung Eucharist.

8am – Holy Com­mu­nion, 9.30am – Morn­ing Prayer, 10.30am – Cathe­dral Eucharist, 4pm – Evening Prayer with hymns.

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