NO(rth) Brasil 1872-2018


Marianne North was a XIX Century English painter, traveler and writer, an exceptional woman that broke all molds and expectations of the time by leading a life commanded by the pursue of beauty, discovery and adventure.  Marianne North was filled with the desire to paint and discover and spent most of her adult life crisscrossing the planet alone, with an easel and brushes, looking for unique plants and beautiful landscapes. At the end of her journey she amassed a collection of more than 800 paintings of landscapes and nature, primarily plants.  

She arrived in Brazil in 1872 with the initial idea of staying in Rio de Janeiro. In the end she stayed over a year and traveled across part of the country, deep into the State of Minas Gerais.  Her 112 paintings and the many pages dedicated in her autobiography to her time in Brazil offer a fascinating portrait of that time and its peoples.

The Project “North no Brasil” started in the year 2016, triggered by the pure mesmerizing pleasure of placing a tripod and a camera where her easel once was, witnessing the “before and after” of these special places and her deep love for botany. During several weeks travel we reencountered the views of Sugarloaf Mountain and the Rio Botanical Gardens, took a boat to Paqueta island in search of its beaches and rocks, to the Tijuca mountains, and then we continued up to Petrópolis and all the way to the State of Minas Gerais and the Morro Velho gold mines.  We took pictures and filmed in 4K.  What unfolded was a personal journey of discovery, interpretation and depiction, an individual pursue of artistic creation and vision, a path that touches on environmental, historical and social transformation.  What constitutes the artist’s perspective, what relation is there between that Brazil and this modern country in front of us? Can we imagine the world in a specific spot 150 years from now?

Here are a few photos and videos of the first trip following Marianne North’s steps.  In 2018 we hope to visit all the locations to dig deeper into their history, as well as the social and environmental transformations.


Marianne North’s trip to Brazil came right after her first visit to the United States and Jamaica in 1871. She left England on the 9th of August 1872 in the Neva Royal Mail Ship and reached the coast of Pernambuco two and a half weeks later. After a few days in Bahia the Neva continued its route and reached the “beautiful Bay of Rio, which certainly is the most lovely sea-scape in the world: even Naples and Palermo must be content to hold a second place to it in point of natural beauty.”

Ms North found accommodation at the Hôtel des Étrangers at Botafogo (not far from where Charles Darwin had stayed 40 years before) and immediately began exploring Rio, paying almost daily visits to its already famous Botanical Gardens. Karl Glasl, the Gardens Austrian director, allowed Marianne to keep her easel and brushes at his house and she only returned “at sunset to dine and rest, far too tired to pay evening visits”. She also made a couple of short trips to the island of Paquetá and to the Tijuca coast before accepting an invitation to visit Minas Gerais with Mister James Gordon, Superintendent of the Morro Velho gold mines, and his family.

I liked their looks and manner of asking me, and it seemed a grand opportunity of seeing something of the country, so I said I would come for a fortnight, at which they laughed, and with reason, for I stayed eight months!

Route across Rio and Minas Gerais

The route first took her to Petropolis (here she became acquainted with the Emperor and his wife), where they stopped for some time before continuing to Juiz de Fora, Entre Rios, Barbacena and finally the Morro Velho mines. Marianne North spent more than half a year with the Gordons, painting the surrounding landscapes, numerous plants and birds. To this period of “living in an English collony” she dedicated many of the pages in her diary about Brazil. The combination of living in the comfort and company of her compatriots and having at her daily disposal the fascinating exotic landscapes of the Brazilian interior extended her stay way beyond what she originally planned.
From Morro Velho she also took various excursions to such places as the former Cata Branca gold mines, Ouro Preto, Mariana, Itacolomi and Lagoa Santa.  In Lagoa Santa paid a visit to Peter Lund before continuing on to the Curvelo Caves where the famous paleontologist had made so many of his discoveries.

Marianne North was an intrepid and curious traveler, always willing to go places and discover. At the peak of the dry season, on July 2nd, she began her slow journey back South to the Bay of Rio, stopping at the Caraça Jesuit school, Teresopolis and Petropolis.

The distant Organ Mountains peeped at us over the ends of the green valleys, and I again thought nothing in the world could be lovelier than that marvelous road.”

She arrived in Southampton on the 14th of September 1874.


Marianne North’s family traveled extensively throughout her youth. In 1847 they went on a three year trip through Europe. Five years later, after her mother’s death they began traveling every summer, visiting Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, the Bosphorus, Egypt and Syria. But her travels exclusively devoted to botanical painting properly started at age 40, after her father’s death.
Between 1871 and 1885 she made over 800 oil paintings in 17 different locations:
Africa: South Africa, The Canary Islands (Spain) and the Seychelles.
The Americas: USA, Canada, Jamaica and the Caribbean, Chile and Brazil.
Asia: Japan, Singapore, Malasia, Java, Sri Lanka and India.
Australasia: Australia and New Zealand.
1871-1872 Her first trip was to the United States, Canada and Jamaica. In Upstate New York she met Frederick Church, who showed her his oil paintings from Jamaica and sparked her desire to go there.
1872-1873 Marianne North traveled to Brazil and spent over a year in the states of Rio and Minas Gerais, completing 112 oil paintings.
1875 She escaped the English winter by traveling to the Spanish island of Tenerife.
1875-1877 In these two years she went around the world, from England to California, and then across the Pacific to Japan, Borneo, Java and Ceylon before returning to her homeland.
1878-1879 Traveled to India and produced 200 more paintings. Upon her return she exhibited her paintings at a London gallery and soon after wrote to Kew Gardens offering to donate her work.
1880 At Charles Darwin’s suggestion she visited Borneo, Australia and New Zealand. Just in Australia she did 300 more paintings.
1881 The Marianne North Gallery opened at Kew Gardens, but scarcely two months later she set off again to
1882-1883 visit South Africa
1883-1884 and the Seychelles Islands
1884-1885 Marianne North traveled for one last time to paint Araucaria trees in Chile and make a very brief return visit to Brazil. Her health had seriously deteriorated.
1886-1890 The last years of her life were spent writing her autobiography in Gloucestershire.

Marianne North at work
62 Bingham Mills Rd.
Germantown, NY 12526

Calle Echegaray 1, Ático
29015, Málaga

© Daniel de la Calle Gebele