A drawing of two apples on a branch, surrounded by deep green leaves

The genius of nature
botanical drawings by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues

Exhibition /

19 September – 28 January 2024

Daily: 10.00–17.00
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Room 90a

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Revel in the beauty of nature at this display of works by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues – one of the most gifted botanical artists of his age.

French by birth but British by adoption, Le Moyne (about 1553–88) created remarkable watercolours of plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables which captivate the eye with their extraordinary naturalism and the striking simplicity of their presentation.

As a young man, Le Moyne was chosen to accompany a French expedition to North America in 1564, which planned to settle new Protestant colonies in Florida. The mission itself was unsuccessful, but Le Moyne's work as cartographer and artist is thought to have included some of the earliest Western images of the peoples and customs of Florida. On his return to France he found it engulfed by the Wars of Religion and Le Moyne fled to London, where he settled in Blackfriars, among a large community of fellow Huguenots (French Protestants persecuted by the Catholic majority). It was here that he attracted the attention of a fellow explorer of North America: the poet and courtier Sir Walter Raleigh. It was probably Raleigh who introduced Le Moyne to other figures at the Elizabethan court, including Lady Mary Sidney.

The British Museum has 50 botanical drawings by Le Moyne, which were originally part of an album created around 1585 for Lady Mary. This display presents a selection of the watercolours, along with the sonnet dedicated to Lady Mary which opened the album. Isolated against blank backgrounds, they are not idealised or generic representations of plants, flowers and insects, but images that have the individuality of portraits. Complete with blemishes and imperfections, these almost tactile images were intended to be admired not only for their scientific accuracy but also for their aesthetic beauty.