Maria Sybillia Merian (1647-1717) was a German botanical illustrator and entomologist who observed nature first hand by drawing her subjects outdoors. The fashion at the time was to depict botanical illustrations as ‘perfect’ specimens and in their correct taxonomic order.  However her paintings are unusual as they record more naturalistic detail than this, including imperfections, decay and the cycle of life in plants, insects and nature.  Therefore the work she made reveals an interesting contradiction between naturalistic drawing from observation (which was so detailed that it lead to scientific discoveries) and her defiant choice of aesthetics over methodical order in composition.
There is a link between these two artists, who are both preoccupied with the difficult line between truth and beauty in figurative painting.  Vanessa’s paintings make Maria Sybilla Merian the subject of the same kind of observation Merian used in her own work.  The way that the cumbersome and overly feminine clothing is painted recalls the shapes and folds of petals, a reminder of the many difficulties Merian would have had in travelling alone as a woman to South America in the 1600s to paint.  The paintings are also a comment on how her intrepid nature led to her eventual demise as she caught malaria in Suriname and died a few years later.
The series unites two artists, across centuries, who both share the same passions in painting and illusion, and asks the viewer to explore the gap between what the painter intended and our experience of it.


Suriname - painting of Maria Sibylla Marian for 'Degree of Darkness' group show Sept 2014. See below image for text on the series.