The set of 86 drawings was donated in 1927 from the collection of the Devon botanist, Reverend Richard Cresswell (1815-1882). They are extremely rare and have high historical and scientific importance. As far as is known, RAMM is the only non-national UK collection to hold original drawings from this group, the others being at Kew, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. The importance of the drawings came to light during RAMM’s 2012/3 Arts Council England funded collections review when Martyn Rix, a leading specialist in botanical art, was commissioned to survey its 400 botanical drawings.
The botanical drawings were commissioned from Indian artists, by the East India Company, probably under the supervision of the Calcutta Botanic Garden. In the late 18th and early 19th century the Company set out to record the complete flora of India for the advancement of botanical science and for commercial exploitation – primarily food crops and medicines. RAMM’s drawings relate to several printed publications of the era of William Roxburgh and Sir Joseph Banks, including Plants of the Coast of Coromandel, Hortus Bengalensis and Flora Indica. William Roxburgh was the superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden from 1793 and is often called the father of Indian Botany. Sir Joseph Banks was a leading patron of the natural sciences who is credited with establishing Kew as the world's leading botanical gardens.
The conservation of the drawings is particularly challenging because of the inherent fragility of the mediums; they are painted on paper with gouache and watercolour with pencil under-drawing and ink inscriptions. As well as a fairly standard range of problems including surface soiling, creasing and tears, atmospheric pollution has caused the formation of acid in the paper, seen as discolouration and staining. Pollutants have also caused lead-based colours to blacken, which has changed the appearance and colour balance of many of the drawings. Careful conservation work can reverse these changes and return the work to their original, stable colours.
The Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Material (PRISM) Fund is administered by Arts Council England and awards grants towards the costs of acquisition and conservation of items or collections which are important in the history and development of science, technology, industry, and related fields.
Image: Taro - Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott (synonym C. antiquorum Schott) showing typical blackening on the tip of the yellow flower bud.
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The Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) is one of Exeter City Council’s flagship services. RAMM is also supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
RAMM reopened on 15 December 2011 with stunning new displays, new galleries, fabulous exhibitions, modern amenities and a new entrance linking the museum with the oldest public gardens in England and the city’s Roman wall. The multimillion pound development project was funded by the HLF (£9million), ECC and other sources.
Awards and standards include Museum of the Year 2012, the Arts Council Designation Scheme, VAQAS (Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Service), Devon Visitor Attraction of the Year 2012, Collections Trust Best Practice Award 2013, RIBA South West Special Award for Conservation and Building of the Year 2013, the Accreditation Scheme for Museums in the United Kingdom, Inspiring Learning for All, 2012 Silver Tourist Attraction Award in the South West and Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2013.
Stunning displays reveal Devon and Exeter’s rich history and global connections. Exotic animals, birds and insects delight children and a changing programme of exhibitions and events means there is likely to be something different to see on every visit. Free entry gives everyone the freedom to visit many times and to stay any length of time.
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