Stuart Low & Co Orchid Portraits

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This remarkable group of orchid paintings are from the collection of Stuart Low & Co, prestigious Royal Nurseries and England’s leading orchid grower in the late 19th and early 20th century. The orchids are rendered with immense vibrancy and realism, strikingly capturing the flowers' delicate petal structure and symmetry. These orchid species were likely propagated by Low & Co themselves, and were painted for illustration in a book or catalogue.

Orchid growing in England has a fascinating history. In 1850 the Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew declared England the “grave of all tropical orchids”. In these early years knowledge was poor and growing conditions in England’s greenhouse were ill-suited to orchids.

By the end of the 19th century, however, orchid growing in England was a successful and celebrated science. Low & Co had specimen collectors travel to far flung places such as the Andes, and the nurseries themselves were magnificent places, with hand-blown glass panels and wrought iron plant benches. Queen Victoria’s affection for the plants fuelled their popularity, and orchids were cultivated by royalty, the landed gentry and wealthy businessmen. Victorian women, however, were forbidden from owning orchids due to the suggestive shape of their flowers, and in 1912 suffragettes responded to this symbolic oppression by destroying most of the specimens at Kew Garden.