Monday, September 20, 2010

Whipcord Cobra Lily

{And the Paintress Who Painteth the Flow'r Before Me}

The Whipcord Cobra Lily: all-female Cajun rockabilly revival band from Baton Rouge or carnivorous plant native to Himalayan rhododendron forests? Possibly both, but definitely the latter. The cobra lily (Arisaema tortuosum) grows all over the soggy vertical jungle around here. And it grew here a hundred and thirty years ago when Englishwoman Marianne North packed up her easel, hiked up her petticoats, and spent the summer of 1878 hiking around these very hills, alone, in search of Interesting Botanical Specimens To Paint. Alone, in 1878. That's one intrepid dame.



The scientific accuracy of North's paintings (before photography was a practical alternative) made her somewhat of a celebrity and her paintings an invaluable resource in her times. There's a museum of her paintings at Kew Gardens in London. Guess who's dying to see her fabulous crusty Victorian botanicals in person?



So here I am painting the very plant in the very Himalayan village Miss North painted over a century ago, and I'd like to think there's a sort of kinship in that. And thinking of her painting the whipcord cobra lily in particular makes me smile; it must have been the most amusing affront to Victorian sensibilities to behold a plant with such an overpowering eau de offal* and that unseemly, ridiculously long spadix. See her painting here.



*I’m a sucker for plants that smell like carrion. If you can’t smell like jasmine and attract honeybees then why not smell like rotting flesh and attract flies? Right? Right.

19 comments:

  1. this is very fascinating. i didn't know about her: i love stories of strong women from the past, they're so inspiring. I wish i could paint in front of the himaĆ²ayans tpp! I have a nice view from my studio wimdow, but nothing compares to thet, I think. You really make me dream.

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  2. Hello from Baton Rouge! I've been working on a few flower paintings in the last few months, also.
    Lately, I'm trying to perfect the Daisy~ those overlapping petals are crazy.
    You paint beautifully!

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  3. She was one intrepid lady and so are you.

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  4. Lily--you know i am gathering you are in Musoorie! I lived in landour--in mussoori for two summers below the house of the principal of the landour language school chitranjan..mussoorie is so close to my heart...please write to me asap--if you can find Dinker-ji, he is one of the hindi profs--and chitranjan dutt-the principal of landour language school--please say hello--and to our friends at sisters bazaar and Anil from the tea so midway down the hill to town!
    I haven't had much time to visit--so busy in these days but your posts are bringing tears to my eyes...i have many many things to tell you...

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  5. oooh i'd love to see more botanical style paintings from you!

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  6. "If you can’t smell like jasmine and attract honeybees then why not smell like rotting flesh and attract flies? Right? Right."

    um, i might love you for-eva because of that last sentence.

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  7. Glad your Indian watercolors are working for you! I love botanical illustrations. so. much.

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  8. i see the pink converse made it to india! love you!

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  9. Your paintings are purty, purty. I can't wait to see what else you get up to. And the last sentence of your post made me laugh...it's a very good point.

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  10. The next time I am at Kew, which is one of my favorite places on the planet, I will look for her work. in the meantime, I am loving your work! I hope you'll be doing loads and loads of botanicals in the coming months! What a treat to see them. xo Gigi

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  11. I love how you're living your life with such gusto and passion!

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  12. Your talent never ceases to amaze me, Lily! Beautiful!

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  13. I am living vicariously through your India adventure... how incredible! ENJOY!!! :)

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  14. BONBON: DINKAR IS MY HINDI TEACHER. WE HAVE MASALA CHAI & OMELETS AT ANIL'S TEA SHOP *EVERY MORNING.* OMG OMG OMG. And Dinkar-ji is the one who TOLD me about Marianne North's botanicals! This is too crazy. Emailing you asap. I can't believe you went to Landour Language School. This is amazing and blowing my little MIND.

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  15. aw, i have those pink converse :) (speaking of feeling a kinship, heh). what a great story!! your painting is *lovely* by the way.

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  16. Lily painting lillies - I love it!

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  17. I am a sucker for plants in general!!! How are you my sweet friend!!! Your photos are so refreshing!! HUGS!

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  18. Wow, you make the plants out to be prettier than they seem. In the Himalayas where I am sometimes fortunate to take walks, I have encountered different species of cobra lilies. My friend SR has photographed some of them.

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