Romo Gardenia textiles collection
At Westbury Garden Rooms, we are big enthusiasts of botanical prints and patterns so we were thrilled to hear that interior textile connoisseur, Romo, have created a collection of beautiful prints and fine embroideries inspired by the works of Alfred Wise’s horticultural paintings and sketches.
At first glance, the collection is exquisite – but once you explore the story behind the designs you begin to appreciate what the Gardenia patterns represent. Romo is renowned for its assorted library of classic and contemporary designs and versatile plains, offering a diverse style and timeless elegance enriched with a sophisticated colour palette.
Where botanical illustration comes from…
In the days before photography, the only way of visually recording the world’s plant species was through botanical illustrations, with natural scientists pouring over intricately detailed paintings in books. The very first botanical sketches can be traced to an illustrated medical book titled De Materia Medica which was written and illustrated by Greek botanist Pedanius Dioscorides between 50 – 70 CE.
Throughout the eighteenth century, advances in the printing industry meant that botanical illustrations in books could be clearer with better colours – resulting in some breathtakingly beautiful pieces of work that we still appreciate today.
As the paintings have a purely scientific purpose, they needed to clearly and accurately depict the shape, colour and details of the plant species, and botanical artists were highly respected for their professions. Ultimately, researchers and scientists were entirely dependent on the skill and knowledge of the artists who painted the plants, and it required fine attention to detail and a technical understanding of horticulture to do the job well.
The works of Alfred Wise
There are many artists and illustrators from around the world who made significant contributions to scientific publications on plant life, including Maria Merian (1647 – 1717) and Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1766 – 1854) whose works are still highly popular today. Canadian-born artist Alfred Wise was one of the last botanical illustrators to use his skills before the rise of photography made these paintings redundant in the scientific world.
As a child, Alfred’s creative skill was immediately recognised and his family always encouraged him to pursue his craft. After his family moved back to England, he studied fine art at the Birmingham School of Art in the 1920s, and spent the majority of his extraordinary career at the RHS Wisely in Surrey. His watercolour paintings were used internally by the RHS for educational purposes, and he was often asked to create illustrations of award-winning plants that had been showcased at various flower shows.
As with many creative figures, Alfred was certainly a character! He was considered to be slightly eccentric but described as a gentleman, nonetheless. He stood out from the crowd, with his dark curly hair and beard. He was a slightly reclusive character who simply lived for his art, residing in a caravan in the grounds at Wisely and only occasionally visiting his brother or his parents for a meal. By all accounts, he loved the great outdoors – writing for the RHS Gardening Journals and visiting remote islands to study the flora and fauna. With little care for things like marriage or children, his caravan was essentially a large paint box, with pots, paints, and brushes covering every surface.
This is not the first time his works have been interpreted for the textile market; it’s believed that he was commissioned by Sanderson to design a botanical pattern for a range of fabrics – however, he included a bee sitting on one of the blooms, and flatly refused to continue working on the project when he was asked to remove it.
The future of botanical illustrations
Sadly, Alfred passed away in Guildford in 1985, leaving behind approximately 1000 beautiful botanical paintings which are held at the RHS libraries. To date, much of his collection has remained largely unseen – which is what makes the Romo collection so exciting.
The wonders of nature are a continual source of inspiration for the Romo design studio, it came naturally to appreciate Alfred Wise’s work and translate his designs into fabrics using a variety of techniques
– Emily Mould, Romo Design Director
With private access to Alfred Wise’s extensive archive of profoundly detailed artwork, Romo has created an enchanting collection of 7 fabrics that wonderfully embody Alfred’s passion for botanical drawings. With intricate detailing that is both graceful and charming, the Gardenia fabrics perfectly capture Alfred’s devotion to understanding nature – allowing you to bring some of his unique creations into your home in the form of upholstery, accessories and drapes.
There’s also a glimmer of hope for the seemingly lost art of botanical illustration. With the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram, emerging British creatives with love of nature are developing a new style of botanical art, which comes in a variety of styles and mediums.
Artist Kate Kato created detailed paper sculptures based on species of mushrooms, flowers, and insects found within the Welsh valley of her hometown. Each item is beautifully crafted from recycled paper which she tints with natural dyes. London-based artist Zadok Ben-David created an incredible, touring floor installation made up of up to 27,000 hand-painted steel etched flowers based on drawings from 19th Century Victorian encyclopaedias. Finally, glass artist Laura Hart explores the exotic beauty of orchids with her incredibly realistic botanical sculptures. Each piece is scaled up to around 30cm, but still features true-to-form shapes and colours based around the different 28,000 known species of orchid.