Artists Represented in the Smithsonian Catalog of Botanical Illustrations

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Margaret Ursula Mee (née Brown) (1909- 1988) was born near Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England on 22 May 1909. Her early education was influenced by a maternal aunt, who was an illustrator of children's books. Shortly after World War II, she began to study art in a serious way. She attended classes at St. Martin's School of Art in London, where she also met her second husband, Greville Mee. The portfolio that she assembled at St. Martin's gained her admission to the Camberwell School of Art, also in London. At the latter school, she was influenced by Victor Pasmore, who was then one of Britain's best known painters.

One of her sisters had moved to Brazil after World War II, and when the sister fell ill, Margaret flew to Sã o Paulo to visit. Margaret's husband joined her shortly thereafter and while she taught art at St. Paul's, the British School in Sã o Paulo, he became established as a commercial artist. Slowly, what had begun as a visit of a few years duration turned into a life-long residence.

In 1956, Margaret made the first of fifteen journeys into the Amazon forest, during which she recorded her observations through her paintings and diaries. Over the course of the next three decades she observed what had been initially for her an absolute wilderness suffer from the impact of colonization and commercial exploitation. Consequently, she became through her art and public appearances not only a strong advocate for capturing images of Amazonian plants and habitats but preserving the forest as well.

Mee's preferred medium was gouache and she insisted on painting from life. During her expeditions, which could last for months, she would make on-site drawings and then take living collections home, sometimes to wait months until a flower would bloom, but always to insure a proper identification of her subject matter. This led to correspondence and contact with many of the world's botanical specialists.

The first major publication reproducing her paintings of Amazonian plants is the remarkable folio entitled Flowers of the Brazilian Forest, Collected and Painted by Margaret Mee (1968). Her friend Roberto Burle Marx, an internationally famous Brazilian landscape architect, wrote the forward. The scientific text associated with each plate was contributed by noted plant taxonomists, including Richard S. Cowan (b. 1921), Lyman B. Smith (b. 1904), and John J. Wurdack (b. 1921), all of the Smithsonian Institution. Mee provided notes about each plant, as well, which she extracted from her diaries.

Paintings of Bromeliaceae that Mee originally had prepared for the Flora Brasilica were published with text prepared by Lyman B. Smith in a volume entitled The Bromeliads (1969). Subsequently, Mee contributed watercolors, many of them floral details, to Orchidaceae Brasiliensis (1975). The next major publication that she illustrated was a sumptuous folio entitled Flores do Amazonas/Flowers of the Amazon (1980). It featured her paintings, diary entries, and botanical text by Guido Pabst. Portions of her diaries, arranged chronologically by expedition, were published with the title Margaret Mee, In Search of Flowers of the Amazon Forests (1988). The book is richly illustrated with her paintings, sketches, and photographs taken on her expeditions.

Tragically, Mee died in an automobile accident in Leicester, England on 30 November 1988.

Examples of illustrations by Margaret Ursula Mee in our catalog.
Vriesea incurvata
Vriesea billbergioides
Tillandsia tenuifolia
View all illustrations in the catalog by Margaret Ursula Mee.