South Africa welcomes the return of exquisite watercolour paintings to where they were created, another first for Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden at the foot of the majestic Table Mountain. Lady Cynthia Tait (1894-1962), a proficient botanical illustrator, with a passion for South African flowers, is being celebrated at a special exhibition in the Richard Crowie Hall in Kirstenbosch from 16 January to 15 March 2020.
Lady Tait’s love of South African flowers can be attributed to following her husband from Guernsey to Africa. Her husband, Admiral Sir William Eric Campbell Tait (1886–1946), was a senior British naval officer, courtier, Commander-in-Chief of the South Atlantic Station from 1942, where he led the Royal Navy, South African Army and South African Air Force, and fifth Governor of Southern Rhodesia. After the death of Admiral Tait, she married Lancelot Ussher of Luncarty, Claremont, Cape Town, where her love for South African flowers continued to blossom.
Lady Tait’s paintings were inherited by granddaughter, Cynthia Cormack, who granted permission for them to be exhibited at one of her grandmother’s favourite spots, Kirstenbosch.
The paintings were almost forgotten until recently, when Cormack was chatting to eminent Guernsey horticulturist and clematis grower, Raymond Evison, about her grandmother’s works, a number of which were stored at her home in Guernsey. Evison, impressed, contacted the Guernsey Arts Commission and Gateway Publishing, which led to an exhibition in Guernsey in June and July 2018 of some 60 paintings, inherited by Cormack and Lady Tait’s grandson, William Astley-Jones, and the publication of a selection of these paintings in a book titled Tait Florilegium.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Society Chairman, Keith Kirsten, attended the opening of the Guernsey exhibition and, enchanted by the paintings, was immediately determined to bring the exhibition to Kirstenbosch where many of these delightful paintings found their inspiration and, indeed, were actually illustrated on Lady Tait’s frequent visits to Kirstenbosch and during her time at Luncarty.
The Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society is delighted to showcase 66 of Lady Tait’s paintings returning to South Africa on loan for the exhibition, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Duncan Spence of Gateway Publishing and Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschhoek, Western Cape.
Curated by Mary van Blommestein of the University of Cape Town (UCT) Irma Stern Museum, the exhibition will also include botanical art by the Western Cape branch of the Botanical Artists Association of Southern Africa (BAASA), a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting public awareness of botanical art in Southern Africa. The Lady Tait collection endorses South African-inspired art pieces as pioneers in international botanical art.
Copies of Tait Florilegium, which contains full sized reproductions of the glorious watercolours of selected South Africa wild flowers by Lady Tait, will be on sale at the exhibition, along with beautiful notecards.
The exhibition pays homage to an illustrator, almost lost to the South African art world, and serves as a revival of these exquisite pieces that embrace our natural heritage. It is fitting that the paintings are displayed at the source of their inspiration; in the heart of South Africa’s famous floral kingdom.
The exhibition promises to be one of the art industry’s top events in 2020 and confirms South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society and the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden’s unique offering to the planet’s floral kingdom.
The Lady Tait exhibition is being held in the Richard Crowie Hall located nearest to Gate 2 at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Rhodes Drive, Newlands. Kirstenbosch and the exhibition will be open every day from 09h00 to 18h00. Entry to the exhibition is free but garden entry fees apply; BotSoc members with membership cards will gain free access to the garden and exhibition.